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Kurt Vonnegut: WNYC Reporter on the Afterlife

History Notes: Volume 2, Issue 24

Friday, August 05, 2011 - 09:00 AM

The author Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) worked with WNYC producer Marty Goldensohn on a 1998 series known as Reports on the Afterlife. A year earlier, Vonnegut explained these reports would come as a result of "controlled near-death experiences."

Making this possible were Dr. Jack Kevorkian and the facilities of a Huntsville, Texas execution chamber. Together they provided the author with the ability to make "more than one hundred visits to Heaven, and my returning to life to tell the tale," he wrote. That tale is about Vonnegut's take on the way a number of the dead review their own lives. Among those interviewed were the famous, infamous and little known. They included: Eugene Victor Debs, Sir Isaac Newton, Frances Keane, Peter Pellegrino, Adolf Hitler and Burnum Burnum.

Subsequently, most of these reports were drawn together into the book, God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian and published in 1999 by Seven Stories Press. In the introduction Vonnegut writes:

"This booklet of my conversations with the dead-and-buried was created in the hope that it would earn a little bit of money--not for me, but for the National Public Radio Station WNYC." And it did. The reports, like the one above and those below, provided listeners with an opportunity to catch Vonnegut's keen observational skills as a reporter from a distant place, where neither before, nor since, WNYC has had a stringer.

 

Editors Note: We have not been able to locate all of the interviews in this series since they were produced before the archives was founded as a formal department. Missing reports (Shakespeare and Asimov and any others) will definitely be included if they turn up.

 

Eugene Victor Debs

 

Karla Faye Tucker 

Dr.  Fred H. Mattson

 

Adolf Hitler

 

John Wesley Joyce

 

Roberta Gorsuch Burke

 

Sir Isaac Newton

 

Frances Keane

 

James Earl Ray

 

Dr. Mary D. Ainsworth

 

Salvatore Biagini

 

Harold Epstein

 

Peter Pellegrino

 

Clarence Darrow

 

Debate on Hell

 

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Broadcast on WNYC Today in:

1924: A talk by Bird S. Coler, New York City Commissioner of Public Welfare.

1938: Douglas "Wrong-Way" Corrigan addresses the Advertising Club of New York upon his return from a flight to Dublin, Ireland that was intended to be a flight to Long Beach, California. The aviator sticks to his story: it was all a big mistake.  

1940: The National Park Service in cooperation with WNYC presents Two on a Trip: The story of a lost civilization in Mesa Grande National Park. Directed by Mitchell Grayson.

1952: In this episode of Music for the ConnoisseurDavid Randolph plays unfamiliar works by familiar composers. He begins with a short work by Mozart: Rondo in C-Major for violin and orchestra. We also hear the String Quartet #2, Opus 69, by Dimitri Shostakovitch.

1964: President Lyndon B. Johnson speaks at Syracuse University on "The Communist Challenge in South East Asia." Note: The President's speech was part of the dedication of the new Journalism Department building at the Newhouse Communications Center.

1989: Radio X - Program #68.

1999: New Sounds features the Hildegurls. The four New York composers, Eve Beglarian, Kitty Brazelton, Lisa Bielawa, and Elaine Kaplinsky, present excerpts from their remarkable interpretation of the 12th century "Ordo Virtutum" by Hildegard von Bingen.

2005On the Media presents 60 Years Late: An Untold Story. When the atomic bomb exploded over the port city of Nagasaki, Japan on the morning of August 9th, 1945, tens of thousands of civilian Japanese died immediately. By October, many thousands more were dying of a mysterious disease, but journalists were barred from the affected areas, so few accounts of the suffering would reach readers here at home. Brooke Gladstone talks with Editor & Publisher's Greg Mitchell about the very first reporter on the scene, George Weller, who wrote a series of articles that were not published until 2005.

 

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Comments [1]

Dan from Boston, MA

I am so, so grateful these treasures are finally available - thank you to the Archives! Is there a reason for the difference in the end of most interviews from the version printed in the collection "God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian"? Also, is there any chance of hearing the remaining "interviews" from that collection - Isaac Asimov, William Shakespeare, etc.?

Aug. 25 2011 10:18 PM

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