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5 Questions with Charles J. Sheilds,

author of And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go and hear Charles J. Shields speak thanks to the folks in the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. If you're asking, “who's that?” - he's the biographer of Kurt Vonnegut. The talk was very interesting and sparked some questions for me. I didn't get them asked at the time of the event, so I sought out Mr. Shields on the internet and asked him a few of the things I hadn't asked before.


Here's a link to the Baltimore Science Fiction Society (they've got a wonderful convention coming up soon):


Here's a link to the YouTube video of the talk I was at:


Here's Mr. Shields' page:


And finally – here are our questions:

Recently Twitter has been given a formal method for citation in scholarly works. At a recent talk you stated you had read somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,500 pieces of correspondence while working on Mr. Vonnegut's biography. How do you see social media (web pages, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and e-mail affecting biographers in the future?

People tend to bemoan the dearth of written correspondence that will be available in the future. But, first, keep in mind that letter-writers can be deceptive knowingly or unknowingly. Simply because we have a letter in which Dickens says he thought up the idea for Scrooge all on his own, doesn't mean it's true. Nor does a letter signed, "Love," mean the writer really loves the recipient. Letters are information, just as, in the future, videotaped interviews, newspaper interviews, blogs interviews, public records, school yearbooks, school newspapers, arrest records, military service records, family photo albums, and oral histories will provide more information about anyone living today than we will ever know about Shakespeare, Keats, or Mary Todd Lincoln.


Along the same lines, electronic book publishing has deeply changed the industry including interactive programs for many books. How do you see electronic books changing things for biographers?

I love printed books; I collect them; I think of the authors as friends. But the enhancements available through e-books are astounding. Imagine being able to run audio and video clips; call-up background materials; and get word definitions instantly. I believe that civilizations tends to progress in ever more beneficial and humanistic ways. Yes, e-books cast doubt on the future of print books. But hold on to your seat— this is a revolution in learning and culture. It's going to be exciting!


Have you noticed a difference in how And So It Goes has been received in the science fiction community as compared to other circles or your other work?

No, I haven't. Other than being invited to Balticon, no one has contacted me for a interview or speaking engagement.


Who is the one person you wish you could write a biography for and why?

Daniel Defoe— I identify with him. He was a journalist, freelancer, nonfiction writer, and novelist. But we'll never know enough about him to create a full-length portrait. His personal life was mysterious (he may have been a spy); in contrast to his prose that ranks among the best in the English language.


We have found that most writers have a well developed sense of imagination, so we add our own fun at the end of each interview. If you could have one (and only one) super power, what would it be?

Time travel, so that I could go back to high school and date the fast girls.

By Eric Hardenbrook

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