Twerp: Not what you think it means

So it goes.

I was in search of some material to appropriate for an assignment (a la Reality Hunger) and came across one of many really great interviews archived in The Paris Review. The interview in question is actually four separate interviews which have been combined into one.

The composite has gone through an extensive working over by the subject himself, who looks upon his own spoken words on the page with considerable misgivings . . . indeed, what follows can be considered an interview conducted with himself, by himself.

It’s been a while since I read any Vonnegut, and so reading this was just a happy reminder of how very much I enjoy him. There’s a considerable amount of information about his experience in WWII, but I gravitate to the material on craft. And I was reminded of something I have in common with him, which I forgot.


You have been a public relations man and an advertising man—


Oh, I imagine.


Was this painful? I mean—did you feel your talent was being wasted, being crippled?


No. That’s romance—that work of that sort damages a writer’s soul. At Iowa, Dick Yates and I used to give a lecture each year on the writer and the free-enterprise system. The students hated it. We would talk about all the hack jobs writers could take in case they found themselves starving to death, or in case they wanted to accumulate enough capital to finance the writing of a book. Since publishers aren’t putting money into first novels anymore, and since the magazines have died, and since television isn’t buying from young freelancers anymore, and since the foundations give grants only to old poops like me, young writers are going to have to support themselves as shameless hacks. Otherwise, we are soon going to find ourselves without a contemporary literature. There is only one genuinely ghastly thing hack jobs do to writers, and that is to waste their precious time.

You’ll have to read yourself Vonnegut’s absurdly specific claim regarding the original meaning of “twerp.”


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