Indianapolis Public Library

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Vonnegut's Indianapolis/Indianapolis Public Library
Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library
Written By Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library

This serenely beautiful, neo-Classical building was the pride of the city when it was completed and opened in 1917. It still is today a century later. It is the work of French architect Paul Philippe Cret. Of course a building full of books has a connection to the writer of books. Kurt Vonnegut explained in an interview with S.L. Berry in the Indianapolis Star (7 January 2007):

“Literature itself was my greatest teacher. The Indianapolis Public Library and my own house were full of books. I get off on reading."

In the entablature level of the facade, above the Doric columns, are the inscribed names of literary figures such as Goethe and Shakespeare. The litany continues inside in the great Main Room. The name of James Whitcomb Riley, the Hoosier Poet, is included. Riley had died just the year before. When the library was greatly enlarged in 2007 the opportunity was presented to honor writers of the twentieth century. Incised in the limestone of the south wall of the Atrium are the names of Joyce, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Hemingway, Dr. Seuss, Yeats, and Vonnegut. He was the local boy who became a man of letters.

Another Vonnegut presence in the library is a bronze bust of the writer. It is atop the bookshelf in the West Reading Room. His bronze eyes are staring across the width of the entire building into the bronze eyes of James Whitcomb Riley in the East Reading Room. The Riley bust was created in 1917 by P. Bryan Baker. The Vonnegut bust is the 1999 work of Los Angeles sculptress Mary Kay Weide. It was one of her series of busts of persons of goodwill. Vonnegut wrote to Weide, “I am profoundly moved and flattered by the portrait you have made of me.”

The Vonnegut name in this library goes deeper. He was twice (1986 and 2007) named the lecturer for the Marion McFadden Memorial Lecture. Unfortunately, he died before he could deliver the last lecture, but his son, Mark read the lecture his father had prepared for the packed Clowes Hall on the Butler Campus.The writer’s family were also involved as supporters of the public library. The patriarch Clemens helped formulate a plan in 1870 to create the Indianapolis Public Library governed by the Indianapolis Public School Corporation. The writer’s father designed art-glass doors for the cabinet holding the Clemens Vonnegut Sr. Collections of books and scores. They are located in the East Reading Rooms. Ask a librarian for more information. The Vonnegut-Library connections were provided by IPL CEO Jackie Nytes and Librarian Chris Cairo.

Cover image: Serge Melki, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

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