Lilly Library's unique Vonnegut collection allows teleplays to take the stage for the first time

Bold underlining in Sharpie, scribbling in between paragraphs and tape holding together sheets of typewriter paper -- some of Kurt Vonnegut's original teleplays stored in Indiana University Bloomington's Lilly Library bear the marks of an involved writer.

For this year's Granfalloon festival, two of those adaptations of Vonnegut short stories transitioned from the Lilly Library's archives to the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center stage for the first time. They were performed by Bloomington's professional theater company, Cardinal Stage.

Isabel Planton shuffling through Kurt Vonnegut materialsView print quality image
Isabel Planton enjoys shuffling through the Lilly Library's Kurt Vonnegut materials, including original teleplays and manuscripts. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

"The fact that our Vonnegut collection contains a number of pieces ripe for stage adaptation demonstrates both the broad range of items within one single author's papers and the diverse ways in which items from our collection can be utilized for research and creative projects," said Isabel Planton, Lilly Library public services librarian.

Arts and Humanities Council associate director Joe Hiland and director Ed Comentale approached Planton with the idea for a stage adaptation and were on the hunt for earlier and lesser-known works from Vonnegut. Planton searched the Lilly Library's Vonnegut collection, and Hiland and Comentale chose two science fiction works, "EPICAC" and "Report on the Barnhouse Effect," to fit this year's theme.

"What Vonnegut wrote is still relevant across a wide range of topics and themes -- themes that still resonate, like tech, war and apocalypse," Hiland said. "Hopefully, new readers will use his works as entry points to larger conversations."

Top, a doodled illustration from Kurt Vonnegut's 1973 novel, "Breakfast of Champions." From left, a box of Vonnegut materials and Vonnegut's handwriting on a draft of a play at the Lilly Library. Photos by James Brosher, Indiana University

Hiland said that using the plays adapted by Cardinal Stage as a medium for learning holds personal significance in the Bloomington community.

"There's an immediacy of a play, and each performance is unique in some way," he said. "Cardinal Stage heightens the impact of it. In Bloomington, people know each other on a personal level, so there's a different emotional resonance."

With over 450,000 books and 8.5 million manuscripts, the Lilly Library offers millions of materials available for public use.

"The Vonnegut collection is open to anyone who has an interest in viewing these materials. Nothing is 'hidden' in our collections," Planton said. "Instead, we want these collections to be as open and available to researchers as possible."

To access a collection in the Reading Room, visitors just need to present their ID and register. This accessibility closely aligns with Vonnegut's final wishes concerning his works.

The exterior of the Lilly LibraryView print quality image
The Lilly Library houses over 450,000 books and 8.5 million manuscripts on the Indiana University Bloomington campus. Photo courtesy of Indiana University

"Lilly acquired the collection before Vonnegut passed away," Hiland said. "It was important to him to have it housed in a public institution with any citizen being able to call up the Lilly and read what's in the Vonnegut collection."

The Lilly Library also hosts creative writing classes, where students can check out Vonnegut's writing process and even rejection slips, discovering his successes and failures.

"This is beneficial to those who are just getting started, knowing that even someone who was as successful as Kurt Vonnegut started out being rejected over and over," Planton said. "He just kept trying and changing his strategy on getting published, and it ended up working out for him."