You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Self Parody

How not to mock a writer

Editor's Note: In 1986, the world's best and most famous writers and literary critics convened at the forty-eighth annual International PEN Congress in New York City. That year's theme was "Writer's Imagination and the Imagination of the State." The New Republic sent Edward Rothstein to cover the event, and he reported (read the PDF) a stunning demonstration of "how stupid our most talented writers can be about history and politics." Kurt Vonnegut, who was especially peeved by one panelist, shared his frustration in a letter to the editor.

To The Editors:

I was delighted to see you hold up Kurt Vonnegut to scorn for his unpatriotic behavior at the PEN Congress, on your cover and then in the thoughtful reportage by Edward Rothstein, which graced your issue on February 24 ("Lead Me Not Into PEN Station"). Mr. Vonnegut was not quoted, however, although he made three appearances--at a panel on censorship in the USA on Wednesday, January 15; at a reading from one of his works later the same day; and then at a panel on the statesman's view of the imagination of the state on Friday, January 17. That was the full extent of his participation, and you had a reporter there, thank goodness. Please, please, please give us at least a little sample of the stupid or annoying or un-American things he said at the congress, and I repeat, at the congress.

I can't stand him myself.

New York, New York

By Kurt Vonnegut Jr.