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Active Vonnegut

In response to:

Mod Apostle from the November 22, 1979 issue

To the Editors:

James Wolcott’s engrossing view of Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut (NYR, November 22) contains a passage that could be misconstrued. Wolcott refers to an article of Vonnegut’s that appeared in McCall’s soon after he witnessed the death spasms of the Republic of Biafra. Vonnegut responded to a neighbor who wanted to know what could be done by saying, “Nothing. It was and is an internal matter, which you can merely deplore.”

Wolcott ignores the irony and writes, “Like Sacco and Vanzetti, the Biafran people are holy innocents, sacrificed on the altar of History, and all that Vonnegut asks is that we not avert our gaze.”

While it is important not to avert our gaze, it is also important to act against injustice. I happen to know that Vonnegut is an active participant against injustice, at least those forms that attract the attention of the ACLU. Along with many other writers and artists, including Edward Asner, Jules Feiffer, Jerzy Kosinski, and Norman Lear, Kurt Vonnegut expends time, money, and his art on behalf of individual liberty.

Norman Dorsen

Chairman, Board of Directors

American Civil Liberties Union, New York City

James Wolcott replies:

What Norman Dorsen calls “irony” sounds to me more like shrugging despair. However, since my review may have suggested that Kurt Vonnegut is a gloom-sloshed layabout, I’m pleased that Mr. Dorsen has done Vonnegut justice by paying tribute to Vonnegut’s exertions “on behalf of individual liberty.”

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