Writing the Body: Authors that Make You See and Understand Others

Writing the Body: Authors that Make You See and Understand Others More Clearly  By Julia Whitehead, Executive Director,  Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library 

Ophelia. Holden Caulfield. Billy Pilgrim. Moby Dick. When I read or hear these names, I call to mind an image of a body or an idea of the intellect that resides in one of these bodies. We each create a slightly different image, depending on the particular features we make more prominent in our imaginations after reading the writer’s words.

Writers’ words have had a lasting impact on me, and we at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library are so happy to be included in this year’s Spirit & Place Festival. The festival was the brainchild of three great writers: John Updike, Dan Wakefield, and Kurt Vonnegut. They were “thinking out loud about Indianapolis” 16 years ago, and the product of these thoughts is this dynamic festival, which brings together the best this city has to offer. This exciting time each year is when the entire city pulls off a grassroots operation that exists nowhere else in the United States. We all should be very proud of our Spirit & Place Festival.

This year, the festival runs from November 4th through November 13th, with events taking place all over the city. The festival’s theme changes from year to year, and this year’s focus is The Body. The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library’s event is “Vonnegut on The Body.” We are bringing Dan Wakefield back to town and showcasing Vonnegut’s descriptions of the body through words and art.

Thanks to the abilities of great writers, we can imagine Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, Harper Lee’s little Scout, and Orwell’s Winston or Julia. Just as the Spirit & Place Festival delves deeper than the surface of Indiana’s unique creative organizations, writers that we love to read take us far deeper than the surface of an individual.

Someone recently asked if we will be considering the mind as part of the body in our descriptions of Vonnegut on the Body at our November 11th event. We agreed that the mind must be included as part of this theme, but we conceded that this incorporates more complexity into the discussion.

Consider Faulkner’s Benji, Bukowski’s Chinaski, Camus’ Meursault, Crane’s Private Fleming, or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In some cases, the writer actually gives a description of the individual. In other cases, the writer provides very little descriptive information but the reader creates an idea of the character based on his or her words or actions. Who are some of your favorite characters and why?

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