Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1922, a descendant of prominent German-American families. His father was an architect and his mother was a noted for her beauty. Both spoke German fluently but declined to teach Kurt the language in light of widespread anti-German sentiment following World War I. Family money had helped send Vonnegut’s two siblings to private schools, but when the Great Depression hit hard in the 1930s, the family placed Kurt in public school while it moved to more modest accommodations. While in high school, Vonnegut edited the school’s daily newspaper. He attended college at Cornell for a little over two years, with instructions from his father and brother to study chemistry, a subject at which he did not excel. He also wrote for the Cornell Daily Sun.

Vonnegut enlisted in the U.S. Army at the height of World War II in 1943. In 1944 his mother committed suicide, and Vonnegut was taken prisoner following the Battle of the Bulge,, and as a a prisoner of war saw the bombing of Dresden in Germany. After the war, Vonnegut married and entered a master’s degree program in anthropology at the University of Chicago. He also worked as a reporter for the Chicago City News Bureau. His master’s thesis, titled Fluctuations Between Good and Evil in Simple Tales, was rejected. He departed for Schenectady, New York, to take a job in public relations at a General Electric research laboratory. In 1951, he left GE to devote himself to writing.

Vonnegut published his first short story, “Report on the Barnhouse Effect,” in 1950. Player Piano, his first novel, appeared in 1952. Sirens of Titan was published in 1959, followed by Mother Night (1962), Cat’s Cradle (1963), God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965), and his most highly praised work, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969). Most of his fiction works were equal parts satire and science fiction Slaughterhouse-Five tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, who has lived through the bombing of Dresden and become a time traveler. Breakfast of Champions (1973), another well-known novel, features an experimental form and the introduction of the author as a character. Vonnegut produced many other novels as well as short story collections and plays and written essays about many subjects, including suicide. After the publication of Timequake (1996), Vonnegut said that he was through writing fiction. He then taught at Smith College, the City College of New York, Harvard University, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and continued to write prolifically until his death in 2007.

“Harrison Bergeron” is one of Vonnegut’s most important short stories. It was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1961 and was later republished as part of the short-story collection Welcome to the Monkey House (1968). Set in a dystopian America in 2081, it is often interpreted as a blistering critique of authoritarian governments. In its blend of satire and science fiction, “Harrison Bergeron” typifies Vonnegut’s work. The story expands on an idea first introduced, in abbreviated form, in Vonnegut’s novel The Sirens of Titans. In 1995, the short story was made into a TV movie.