Vonnegut: The Truth At Last?

cbnron cbnron at ADAMS.NET
Thu Aug 7 22:52:22 MDT 1997

Got this info on another list i'm on - thot it might be of interest to you
who read the "Vonnegut Commencement Address."

>>This is from H.A.N.D....
>Forwarded by Ruth Frear
>   Vonnegut's MIT "ghostwriter" speaks out
>Following is the Sunday Chicago Tribune column, dated August 3, 1997, by
>Mary Smich, the woman whose "Sunscreen" speech was mistakenly identified
>on the Web as a Kurt Vonnegut commencement address to MIT:
>Date: Sunday, August 3, 1997
>Source: Mary Schmich.
>Parts: 1
>Copyright Chicago Tribune
>   I am Kurt Vonnegut.
>   Oh, Kurt Vonnegut may appear to be a brilliant, revered male novelist.
>I may appear to be a mediocre and virtually unknown female newspaper
>columnist. We may appear to have nothing in common but unruly hair.
>   But out in the lawless swamp of cyberspace, Mr. Vonnegut and I are one.
>Out there, where any snake can masquerade as king, both of us are the
>author of a graduation speech that began with the immortal words, "Wear
>   I was alerted to my bond with Mr. Vonnegut Friday morning by several
>callers and e-mail correspondents who reported that the sunscreen speech
>was rocketing through the cyberswamp, from L.A. to New York to Scotland,
>in a vast e-mail chain letter.
>   Friends had e-mailed it to friends, who e-mailed it to more friends,
>all of whom were told it was the commencement address given to the
>graduating class at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The speaker
>was allegedly Kurt Vonnegut.
>   Imagine Mr. Vonnegut's surprise. He was not, and never has been, MIT's
>commencement speaker.
>   Imagine my surprise. I recall composing that little speech one Friday
>afternoon while high on coffee and M&M's. It appeared in this space on
>June 1. It included such deep thoughts as "Sing," "Floss," and "Don't mess
>too much with your hair." It was not art.
>   But out in the cyberswamp, truth is whatever you say it is, and my
>simple thoughts on floss and sunscreen were being passed around as Kurt
>Vonnegut's eternal wisdom.
>   Poor man. He didn't deserve to have his reputation sullied in this way.
>   So I called a Los Angeles book reviewer, with whom I'd never spoken,
>hoping he could help me find Mr. Vonnegut.
>   "You mean that thing about sunscreen?" he said when I explained the
>situation. "I got that. It was brilliant. He didn't write that?"
>   He didn't know how to find Mr. Vonnegut. I tried MIT.
>   "You wrote that?" said Lisa Damtoft in the news office. She said MIT
>had received many calls and e-mails on this year's "sunscreen"
>commencement speech. But not everyone was sure: Who had been the speaker?
>   The speaker on June 6 was Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United
>Nations, who did not, as Mr. Vonnegut and I did in our speech, urge his
>graduates to "dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living
>room." He didn't mention sunscreen.
>   As I continued my quest for Mr. Vonnegut--his publisher had taken the
>afternoon off, his agent didn't answer--reports of his "sunscreen" speech
>kept pouring in.
>   A friend called from Michigan. He'd read my column several weeks ago.
>Friday morning he received it again--in an e-mail from his boss. This time
>it was not an ordinary column by an ordinary columnist. Now it was
>literature by Kurt Vonnegut.
>   Fortunately, not everyone who read the speech believed it was Mr.
>   "The voice wasn't quite his," sniffed one doubting contributor to a
>Vonnegut chat group on the Internet. "It was slightly off--a little too
>jokey, a little too cute . . . a little too `Seinfeld.' "
>   Hoping to find the source of this prank, I traced one e-mail backward
>from its last recipient, Hank De Zutter, a professor at Malcolm X College
>in Chicago. He received it from a relative in New York, who received it
>from a film producer in New York, who received it from a TV producer in
>Denver, who received it from his sister, who received it. . . .
>   I realized the pursuit of culprit zero would be endless. I gave up.
>   I did, however, finally track down Mr. Vonnegut. He picked up his own
>phone. He'd heard about the sunscreen speech from his lawyer, from
>friends, from a women's magazine that wanted to reprint it until he denied
>he wrote it.
>   "It was very witty, but it wasn't my wittiness," he generously said.
>   Reams could be written on the lessons in this episode. Space confines
>me to two.
>   One: I should put Kurt Vonnegut's name on my column. It would be like
>sticking a Calvin Klein label on a pair of Kmart jeans.
>   Two: Cyberspace, in Mr. Vonnegut's word, is "spooky."

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