n 2006, students from Xavier High School in New York City were given a writing assignment by their English teacher, Ms. Lockwood. They were tasked with persuading their favorite author to visit the school.

The students' teacher was testing their persuasive writing skills. Five of those students chose Kurt Vonnegut, the author of highly-regarded books such as Slaughterhouse-Five.

Although he never made the trip, Vonnegut's ongoing influence is a testament to his impact. He was the only author who replied, and his response was a wonderful letter.

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don't make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you're Count Dracula.

Here's an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don't do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don't tell anybody what you're doing. Don't show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what's inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

The Heart of the Message

Vonnegut's words to the students carry a message that extends far beyond the walls of any classroom. His core theme is simple yet profound: "Practice any art... not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow."

Rather than present a lengthy lecture on the significance of creativity, Vonnegut offers an assignment that serves as both a challenge and a gift. Creating a six-line, rhymed poem becomes a vehicle for exploration and self-expression.

Then, by instructing the students to destroy the poem, Vonnegut emphasizes the intrinsic value of the creative process itself over any external validation or product.

Creativity as a Vehicle for Growth

Kurt Vonnegut's emphasis on creativity to "make your soul grow" illuminates the idea that personal development and artistic expression are deeply intertwined. Creativity is not merely about producing art; it is about nurturing the soul, learning about oneself, and engaging with the world meaningfully.

His letter is a call to action for the students—and indeed for anyone reading it—to seek out moments of creativity in their daily lives.

Whether drawing a picture, writing a poem, or simply making a face in mashed potatoes, these acts are not trivial; they are fundamental expressions of our humanity.

“Practice any art . . . no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”— Kurt Vonnegut

The Legacy of Vonnegut's Advice

The power of Vonnegut's message resonates with the needs of modern society. In a world where the value of an activity is often measured by its observable output, Vonnegut reminds us that some of the most important things we do may leave no trace at all.

The accurate measure is found in the growth of our inner selves.

Discussing and analyzing this letter is a tribute to Vonnegut's wisdom and stands as a beacon to those in the throes of education or any creative endeavour. It reaffirms the belief that the act of creation is enough—it is a joyous and essential part of being human.

In an environment increasingly consumed with tangible success and notoriety, Kurt Vonnegut's letter to the students of Xavier High School remains a poignant reminder of the intrinsic value of creativity.

This ageless advice encourages a departure from the pursuit of external validation and a turn inward—to the rich, unseen territories of personal imagination and growth.

It's a lesson in the profound simplicity of becoming one's self through the pure act of making art.

In Kurt Vonnegut's words and his life's work, we find the courageous suggestion that perhaps the best creations are the ones we give ourselves the freedom to destroy—leaving behind not products but the indelible mark of growth on the canvas of the soul.

Kurt Vonnegut was a renowned American writer and humorist, recognized for his satirical and darkly humorous novels. He had a prolific career that lasted over 50 years, during which he authored fourteen novels, three short-story collections, five plays, and five nonfiction works.

Mar 27, 2024
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