Tuesday, November 15, 7pm – Non-Fiction
Gregory Summer author of Unstuck in Time: A Journey Through Kurt Vonnegut’s Life and Novels ($24.95 Seven Stories Press)
In Unstuck in Time, Gregory Sumner guides us, with insight and passion, through a biography of fifteen of Kurt Vonnegut’s best known works, his fourteen novels starting with Player Piano (1952) all the way to an epilogue on his last book, A Man Without a Country (2005), to illustrate the quintessential American writer’s profound engagement with the “American Dream” in its various forms. Sumner gives us a poignant portrait of Vonnegut and his resistance to celebrating the traditional values associated with the American Dream: grandiose ambition, unbridled material success, rugged individualism, and “winners” over “losers.” Instead of a celebration of these values, we read and share Vonnegut’s outrage, his brokenhearted empathy for those who struggle under the ethos of survival-of-the-fittest in the frontier mentality—something he once memorably described as “an impossibly tough-minded experiment in loneliness.” Heroic and tragic, Vonnegut’s novels reflect the pain of his own life’s experiences, relieved by small acts of kindness, friendship, and love that exemplify another way of living, another sort of human utopia, an alternative American Dream, and the reason we always return to his books.
GREGORY D. SUMNER, JD, PhD, is chair of history at the University of Detroit Mercy, where he has taught since 1993. He holds a doctorate in American history from Indiana University and is the author of Dwight Macdonald and the Politics Circle. Sumner has been awarded summer fellowships by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and has twice been William J. Fulbright Senior Lecturer at the Université di Roma Tre.
“Like so many of America’s great vernacular spokespersons—Abraham Lincoln, Will Rogers, Frank Lloyd Wright—Kurth Vonnegut knew that he’d be most convincing when telling his own story with simple, plain honesty. Gregory D. Sumner has perceived that directness in Vonnegut’s novels, and correlates the author’s life and works in an engaging, almost spellbinding manner. The Grand Old Man would have liked this book, and I can sense his blessing on it.” —Professor Jerome Klinkowitz, author of Vonnegut in Fact, The Vonnegut Effect, and Kurt Vonnegut’s America
“Gregory D. Sumner celebrates what he playfully identifies as the ‘Kurt Vonnegut road show’ with a tribute that is enlightening and entertaining. I read with wonder and delight the biographical sketches so gracefully fused with a montage of Vonnegut stories and the ideas they dramatize. Unstuck in Time is an achievement of scholarship illuminated by a fan’s contagious enthusiasm.”—Sidney Offit, Curator-emeritus George Polk Journalism Awards
“Gregory D. Sumner’s Unstuck in Time is a wonderful primer to Kurt Vonnegut’s work. Every page brims with analytic insight, biographical revelation, and old-fashioned storytelling. Reading Sumner reminds us about how astoundingly right Vonnegut was about the planetary condition. Highly recommended!” —Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University