In the 1980s, after he’d written his counterculture classics Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five and Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut turned to drawing. He’d doodled all his life, including some illustrations in his novels, but in his sixties he took up art with a new seriousness. He produced hundreds of images, most in Magic Marker, many of them bearing the colorful graphic verve of Paul Klee, an artist he loved.
In the mid-’90s, he casually sent all the works to his daughter, Nanette Vonnegut, herself an artist. “I was busy with young children then, and I put them away,” she recalls. “They weren’t anything new to me because I grew up with him always drawing, making absolutely gorgeous doodles.” Only several years after Vonnegut’s death in 2007 was his daughter able to unearth the images and reconsider their quirky beauty. “Like his writing, they juxtapose humor with darkness,” she says. “But mostly, in them I see him being able to take a break from his own darkness”—Vonnegut had been a prisoner of war during World War II, a theme that forever haunted his work—“and just engage in pleasure.”
The works are now collected in Kurt Vonnegut: Drawings (Monacelli), to be released in May. An exhibit will occur at Cornell University, Vonnegut’s alma mater, in 2016.