(Photo by Frank Stahlberg, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The lion next door

Gretchen Young, AB’84, AM’84, remembers her legendary neighbor, Kurt Vonnegut, AM’71.

Gretchen Young's 13-year-old daughter, Greer, has a lithograph addressed to her by Kurt Vonnegut, AM’71. Until he died in 2007, the author lived next door to Young, AB’84, AM’84 (the vice president and executive editor of Hyperion Books); her husband, John Baxter; and Greer in New York City’s Turtle Bay neighborhood, a “bit of a publishing enclave back in the day,” Young says. “The townhouse across from us is where E. B. White wrote and lived for a time.”

Every time Young and her family would see Vonnegut outside, she says, “he would ask where we were going. We would say, ‘Well, we’re going to dinner or trying a new restaurant.’ He’d always wonder why the hell we’re going all the way there to try that food.” One night, he left the lithograph with a personal note for Greer, asking “Why do your parents always choose to go to bad restaurants?” Young remembers. Signed, “Love, Kurt and Flower,” his dog.

They lived next door to him for years before they developed that relationship. The author “would sit on the stoop smoking his Pall Malls, his unfiltered cigarettes,” Young says. “He just wanted someone to pay attention to him.” Her husband, John, had no problem paying attention to him—he had started to read Vonnegut at 18 years old, and the writer was one of his heroes. But it took a lot of courage for John to approach him. “My husband let so many years pass,” Young says. Finally, about two years before Vonnegut died, “it took Kurt opening up the conversation. They became fast friends.”