Brain Pickings

Kurt Vonnegut’s Fictional Interviews with Luminaries

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What near-death experiences have to do with Shakespeare, Jesus and Isaac Asimov.

In 1997, iconic writer Kurt Vonnegut pitched an idea to New York public radio station WNYC: He would conduct fictional interview with dead cultural luminaries and ordinary people through controlled near-death experiences courtesy of real-life physician-assisted suicide proponent Dr. Jack Kevorkian, allowing the author to access heaven, converse with his subjects, and leave before it’s too late. The producers loved the idea and Vonnegut churned out a number of 90-second segments “interviewing” anyone from Jesus to Hitler to Isaac Asimov. The interviews — funny, poignant, illuminating, timeless, profoundly human — are collected in God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian, a fantastic anthology playing on the title of Vonnegut’s 1965 novel, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, some of the best cultural satire of the past century.

During my most recently controlled near-death experience, I got to interview William Shakespeare. We did not hit it off. He said the dialect I spoke was the ugliest English he had ever heard, ‘fit to split the ears of groundlings.’ He asked if it had a name, and I said ‘Indianapolis.'” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

Thanks to the wonderful Letters of Note — which you should be reading, or else you’re seriously missing out — here’s Vonnegut’s original pitch to WNYC:

Image courtesy of WNYC via Letters of Note

The interviews offer a priceless blend of cultural commentary and existential human preoccupations by way of comedy, from politics to the meaning of life, in what’s perhaps best-described as TED meets SNL.

I asked this heroic pet lover how it felt to have died for a schnauzer named Teddy. Salvador Biagiani was philosophical. He said it sure beat dying for absolutely nothing in the Viet Nam War.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

Relentlessly entertaining and (un)surprisingly insightful, God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian is absolutely fantastic and a rare fiction treat even for those of us with a strong general proclivity for nonfiction.

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