Hoosier History Live! features host Nelson Price, Saturdays at noon on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis.

New time! ... Saturdays, noon to 1 p.m. ET on WICR 88.7 FM.
And always online at hoosierhistorylive.org!

Nov. 24 show

Dan Wakefield on Kurt Vonnegut's letters

As part of an Indianapolis public art program in 2012, artist Pamela Bliss painted this three-story mural of Kurt Vonnegut on a Massachusetts Avenue building. Image courtesy Nuvo.Over a 60-year period beginning when he was freed as a POW in Germany during World War II, an internationally known novelist from Indiana wrote letters to family members, friends and even literary critics.

Now his longtime pal, another novelist from Indianapolis, has edited the letters, which range in tone from haunting, poignant and blistering to witty, warm and irreverent.

Dan Wakefield, the author of Going All the Way (1970) and other bestsellers, will return to Hoosier History Live! to share insights about Kurt Vonnegut Letters (Delacorte Press/Random House).

Dan wrote the introduction for the book, as well as decade-by-decade biographical summaries and (for many of the letters) explanatory notes. The book is being published this month, when Kurt Vonnegut would have celebrated his 90th birthday.

Kurt Vonnegut Letters book cover.Descended from a German-American family that influenced business, cultural and civic life in Indianapolis (as well as the look of the city) starting in the 1850s, Kurt Vonnegut died in April 2007. That year, the Hoosier capital was in the midst of celebrating a "Year of Vonnegut" as a tribute to the literary lion who drew worldwide acclaim for Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), a novel based on his harrowing ordeal as a POW during the firebombing of Dresden, Germany. Vonnegut, who had been a leader of the POWs because of his ability to speak German, was ordered by guards to haul away corpses of children, women and the elderly.

"Reading these letters has allowed me to know my friend Kurt Vonnegut better and to appreciate him even more," Dan Wakefield writes in the introduction. "Nothing came easy for him."

Both Vonnegut and Wakefield attended Shortridge High School and were editors of its legendary newspaper, The Daily Echo. Because of their age difference (Vonnegut was a member of the class of 1940; Wakefield of the class of '50), the two did not meet until the early 1960s. Even so, Dan says that as a high school senior he heard about the impact his future friend was beginning to make as a writer.

Years later, Dan credited Vonnegut with a crucial role in making Going All the Way a bestseller by writing an influential review of the novel for Life magazine.

A Kurt Vonnegut fan sports a tattoo of the author’s famous “So it goes.” Courtesy Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library.Letters about their mutual hometown are included in the new book. In one, Vonnegut expresses frustration about an infamous book signing for Slaughterhouse-Five at the bookstore in the flagship L.S. Ayres & Co. department store in downtown Indy.

"I sold 13 books in two hours, every one of them to a relative," Vonnegut wrote Wakefield in 1969. "Word of honor."

At that point, cities and colleges across the country were clamoring for a Vonnegut visit, with hundreds of eager book buyers standing in long lines. So the dismal turnout at Ayres (the building was designed by Vonnegut's grandfather, acclaimed architect Bernard Vonnegut; its landmark clock was designed later by Kurt Vonnegut Sr.) was particularly exasperating.

In 1997, Vonnegut wrote a blistering letter to the Junior League of Indianapolis (it also is included in Kurt Vonnegut Letters) over the organization's handling of the sale of a historic home designed by his grandfather.

Dan Wakefield (right) was joined by childhood friend Jerry Burton on Nov. 10, 2012, at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis for a signing party for Wakefield’s new book, Kurt Vonnegut: Letters. But Kurt Vonnegut, who was based in New York City and elsewhere on the East Coast for much of his post-World War II life, also cherished many aspects of his hometown and came to feel a sense of pride in its rejuvenated downtown.

Dan Wakefield, who also lived in New York City for many years, as well as in Miami and Boston, resettled in Indianapolis nearly a year ago. Last January, he joined Nelson on Hoosier History Live! to share insights about landmarks from the 1950s (some bygone, some persevering) such as the Red Key Tavern, the Athenaeum and the Ron-D-Vu Drive-In that are mentioned in Going All the Way. A movie version of Going All the Way (1996) starring Ben Affleck was filmed in Indianapolis.

In September, Dan received the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Author Award for lifetime achievement. In addition to Going All the Way, his books include an acclaimed memoir, Returning: A Spiritual Journey (1988); Creating from the Spirit (1996) and Under the Apple Tree (1982).

Illustrations by Nathan Gelgud are featured in the book Kurt Vonnegut: Letters.For Kurt Vonnegut Letters, Dan combed through more than 1,000 letters written by the literary lion. To another famous novelist, Norman Mailer, Vonnegut once wrote: "I am cuter than you are."

Some of his letters from the late 1950s were written on stationary from a Saab dealership on Cape Cod. That’s because Vonnegut, while struggling to support his young family, briefly had the unlikely job of selling Saabs, the Swedish-made car.

As Dan notes in the introduction to Kurt Vonnegut Letters, "Nothing deterred him" as a writer - not even when a relative to whom he had dedicated The Sirens of Titan (1959) his second novel, told him he was unable to finish reading it. (Another relative, who ran a bookstore in Louisville, Ky., apparently refused to stock his novels because they disgusted  her.)

After Vonnegut achieved fame, he occasionally fired off letters to school boards and communities that banned his books. They included a town in North Dakota that threw copies of Slaughterhouse-Five into a furnace.

Throughout it all, as Dan notes in Kurt Vonnegut Letters, he maintained and cherished lifelong friendships, including many dating from his Shortridge years.

History Mystery

When Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was a boy in the 1920s, he lived with his family in a three-story, Arts & Crafts-style home on the north side of Indy. Kurt and his two older siblings, Bernard and Alice, left their palm prints in cement outside the back door of the elegant house, which has leaded-glass windows and his parents' monogram on the front door.

Kurt Vonnegut's boyhood home in Indianapolis.With the onset of the Great Depression when Kurt Jr. was about eight years old, the Vonneguts were compelled to move to a far less impressive home nearby.

Later in life, the famous novelist occasionally referred to his initial boyhood home as "the house where nothing bad ever happened."

Question: What street was the initial Vonnegut house - which is still standing - located on?

To win the prize, you must call in with the correct answer during the live show and be willing to be placed on the air. Please do not call if you have won a prize from any WICR show during the last two months. The call-in number is (317) 788-3314, and please do not call until you hear Nelson pose the question on the air.

This week's prize is four tickets to the Indiana Experience (which can also be used to attend next week's Holiday Author Fair) at the Indiana History Center, as well as a copy of both Indianapolis: A City of Immigrants by M. Teresa Baer and The People's Choice: Jim Jontz of Indiana by Ray E. Boomhower. Both of these authors will be at the Holiday Author Fair, and they also will be featured as guests on the Dec. 1 Hoosier History Live! show. These prizes are courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Roadtrip: World War II 'Band of Brothers' member appears in Greensburg

Roadtripper Chris Gahl of Visit Indy tells us about an opportunity to meet and to listen to former Army Ranger Herb Sueth, 88, of Minneapolis, who was part of the famed 101st Airborne, also known as the "Band of Brothers," who parachuted into Normandy before D-Day during World War II.

A "Chautauqua Celebrating Courage and Tolerance" is open to the public and will be held Thursday, Nov. 29 at Greensburg High School Auditorium in Greensburg, Ind., from 7 to 9 p.m. Admission is $5.

According to Greensburg High School history teacher John Pratt, who has also been a guest on Hoosier History Live!, the discussion also will feature four Holocaust survivors who will be coming to Greensburg from all over the country. More information is available from John Pratt at (812) 663-7176, ext. 1222.

Your Hoosier History Live! team,

Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Chris Gahl, Roadtripper
Richard Sullivan, webmaster and tech director

Pam Fraizer, graphic designer
Garry Chilluffo, creative consultant
Michele Goodrich, Jed Duvall, grant consultants
Joan Hostetler, photo historian
Dana Waddell, volunteer-at-large


Indiana Historical Society logo.Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library logo.

Story InnConner Prairie logo.

Aesop's Tables logo.Lucas Oil

Please tell our sponsors that you appreciate their support: Aesop's Tables | Conner Prairie | Indiana Historical Society | Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library | Lucas Oil | Story Inn.

Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page.Acknowledgments to Print Resources, Monomedia, Indiana Humanities, Visit Indy, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Heritage Photo & Research Services, Derrick Lowhorn and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorships, grants and through individual tax-deductible contributions through Indiana Humanities. We do not receive any government funding. Visit our website to learn how you can support us financially.

News and holiday events from our underwriters

Underground Railroad, holiday author fair and Vonnegut Library journal

Hoosier History Live! is underwritten in part by Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, presenting Follow the North Star, an Underground Railroad experience, through Nov. 17.

And we are underwritten in part by the Indiana Historical Society, presenting the Holiday Author Fair on Saturday, Dec. 1, from noon to 4 p.m. Be sure to catch the special Hoosier History Live! show from noon to 1 p.m. that day, with interviews with four authors directly from the fair!    

And Hoosier History Live! is underwritten with support from the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, now offering its new journal for sale, The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, with works by Robert Bly, Tim O'Brien, Ernie Pyle and Marge Piercy. Available now at the Vonnegut Library store or at its website.

Dec. 1 show - Live from the Holiday Author Fair

History-making sheriff, immigrants to Indy, crusading politico and public gardens

Going Over All the Hurdles A Life of Oatess Archey book cover.For the fifth year, Hoosier History Live! will broadcast from a remote (non-studio) location: the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, which will bustle with captivating interviewees, as about 80 authors with Indiana connections gather for the 10th Annual Holiday Author Fair.

Nelson will be doing round-robin chats with a range of fellow authors who will participate in the Holiday Author Fair from noon to 4 p.m. Oatess Archey.Here are highlights of our special program.

Seven years after the notorious lynching in 1930 of two African-Americans in Marion, Oatess Archey was born in the Grant County city. He grew up to become the first African-American to be elected sheriff in Indiana.

Mr. Archey, who also was the first black teacher at Marion High School, where he had been a state champion in high hurdles in 1955, will join Nelson for an interview.

So will John Beineke, the author of a biography of his former teacher titled Going Over All the Hurdles: A Life of Oatess Archey (Indiana Historical Society Press). The book describes the hurdles that Mr. Archey encountered during a diverse career.

Indianapolis: A City of Immigrants book cover.After teaching at Marion High School (where he initially had been rejected for the faculty and, despite being a college graduate, was hired instead as a janitor), Mr. Archey became the first black track coach and administrator at Ball State University. That was followed by a stint as an FBI agent and firearms instructor at the agency's headquarters in Washington D.C.

He returned to his hometown and was elected Grant County sheriff in 1998. Mr. Archey served two terms (the Ku Klux Klan denounced his initial election with a protest on the courthouse square), resulting in headlines that caught the attention of John Beineke, a Marion native who now is an administrator and professor at Arkansas State University.

Teresa Baer.The two will share insights with Nelson about various historic events in Marion that are described in Going Over All the Hurdles, including the court-ordered desegregation of a swimming pool in the city's Matter Park. (As boys, Mr. Archey and his brother had to be taken to Anderson if they wanted to swim in a public pool.)

Later during our show, Nelson will be joined by Teresa Baer, the author of Indianapolis: A City of Immigrants (IHS Press), a booklet that explores the waves of ethnic immigration to the Hoosier capital. The People's Choice Congressman Jim Jontz of Indiana book cover.It begins with a look at Native Americans (Delaware Indians) during the pre-1800 wilderness era and explores immigrants from the British isles, Ireland, Germany and southern and eastern Europe.

Derived from a suggestion by former Mexican consul to Indianapolis Sergio Aguilera, the booklet also explores African-Americans in early Indiana, the immigration of Asians such as Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese, as well as Hispanics from Mexico and other Central and Latin American counties.

Ray Boomhower.According to Teresa, the booklet is intended as a supplement for high school juniors at schools in central Indiana as they study ethnic immigration; it includes a timeline about the waves of arrivals of various groups.

Teresa makes the point that, almost from the very beginning, immigrants have been confronted by resentment and hostility from people who arrived earlier. Initial targets in the 1800s were Germans and poverty-stricken Irish Catholics who came to build canals and railroads.

"Ultimately, all of us came from somewhere else to be here," notes Teresa, who is managing editor of family history publications at the historical society.

The Visitor's Guide to American Gardens book cover.Her segment on Hoosier History Live! will be followed by Nelson's interview with Ray Boomhower, author of The People's Choice: Congressman Jim Jontz of Indiana (IHS Press). It's a biography of Jontz, a populist U.S. congressman and crusading environmentalist from Indiana who died of cancer in 2007 at age 55.

Ray looks at the "long-shot" political career of Jontz, a Democrat known for his frugal lifestyle and "shoe leather" campaigns who repeatedly won various races, beginning as a state legislator, in northern Indiana districts considered to be conservative and Republican.

In 1974, at age 22 while working as an unpaid caretaker for a local nature preserve, Jontz unseated a top Indiana lawmaker by merely two votes. ("One vote more than I needed to win!" Jontz remarked, according to Ray's biography.) After a defeat in his final political race, an effort to unseat U.S. Senator Richard Lugar in 1994, Jontz became an advocate for environmental groups.

Ray has been a Hoosier History Live! guest several times, including shows about astronaut Gus Grissom and suffragette May Wright Sewall, who are subjects of some of his other biographies.

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp.Another favorite guest, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp of "Hoosier Gardener" renown, also will join us during this Holiday Author Fair show. That's because Jo Ellen, an Indianapolis-based director of the Garden Writers Association, is the author of The Visitor's Guide to American Gardens (Cool Springs Press), a state-by-state exploration of public gardens.

Nelson will talk about Indiana's public gardens with Jo Ellen, a former Indianapolis Star colleague whose "Hoosier Gardener" column is a popular feature of the newspaper. She also has a regular stint as the "Hoosier Gardener" on WXIN-TV/Fox 59.

The new book by Jo Ellen, a landscape consultant and the owner of Write for You!, a freelance writing business, pulls together information about attractions and features of public gardens that is unavailable in a single resource elsewhere, including on the Internet. Jo Ellen has been writing and speaking about natural gardening for more than 20 years.

© 2012 Hoosier History Live! All rights reserved.

Hoosier History Live!
c/o WICR at University of Indianapolis
1400 E. Hanna Ave.
Indianapolis, IN 46227
(317) 927-9101