Carmel resident and historian shares fraternity connection with Kurt Vonnegut.
Writer / Josh Brown
Bill Briscoe’s connection to Kurt Vonnegut Jr. runs a bit deeper than reading a few of Vonnegut’s novels. Briscoe, a Carmel resident and historian of the Delta Upsilon International Fraternity, began learning more about the famous Indianapolis author as he dug into his fraternity’s archives a couple years after Vonnegut died in 2007.
Briscoe had been a Vonnegut fan ever since he read “Cat’s Cradle” in the early 1960s, but his fascination with Vonnegut grew as he realized there was a connection between the author and his fraternity.
Vonnegut was initiated as a member of Delta Upsilon in his undergraduate days at Cornell University in 1940-43 before dropping out to enlist in the United States Army. Briscoe’s fraternity research yielded some historical findings that he donated to help with the opening of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in 2011.
“It was definitely the fraternity connection that got me even more interested in him,” Briscoe says. “He brought in a lot of thoughts and ideas and sometimes controversial things in his stories. He wrote in a way that really makes you think about life and posed a lot of questions.”
Today, Briscoe volunteers as the historian of the renamed Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library and also serves on the advisory board. After being located in a building of shared space off North Senate Avenue since 2011, the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library will celebrate its grand re-opening later this year with a new building on Mass Ave.
The new museum and library will be four times bigger than the previous location. Recently, Briscoe has stayed busy helping with the transition. The museum is putting together a special section on “Slaughterhouse – Five” — Vonnegut’s most famous novel. Briscoe is working collaboratively on ideas for the section and believes the re-opening will be well-received by the Indianapolis community.
“It is very gratifying to see the success that the library has had over the years,” Briscoe says. “With the new museum moving over to the spot on Mass Ave, it should be a much more visible location. I expect a lot more people to be coming soon and being involved in it, which is great.”
It’s no secret that the Vonnegut family has left historical handprints on Indianapolis. If you’ve ever driven downtown past Mass Ave then you’ve likely seen the colorful, two-story mural of Kurt Vonnegut, which was painted on the side of Louie’s Wine Dive in 2011. Kurt’s grandfather, Bernard, was an architect who constructed several Indianapolis buildings including The Athenaeum, which also houses The Rathskeller restaurant and biergarten.
Visit Indy created the “Year of Vonnegut 2017” to honor the 10-year anniversary of Kurt’s passing and the Vonnegut family as a whole. They’ve even partnered with local Indianapolis mixologists for “Cheers To Vonnegut” to create cocktails inspired by the author. The special cocktails will be available for a limited time at 11 bars (selected by Thrillist.com) leading up to the re-opening of the museum.
Briscoe says the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library will hold interest for history buffs and fans of Kurt, but it’s also a great visit even for those who don’t know much about the Indianapolis author.
“It is a quick way to get up to speed on Vonnegut’s life and what he wrote,” Briscoe says. “It is amazing to see how many times his works were rejected, but he never gave up. You can really get a flavor of who he was by visiting the museum.”
The museum sometimes hosts special events including guest speakers on First Fridays, too. They also produce a literary journal each year called “So It Goes”, which is named after one of Vonnegut’s famous quotes. They receive submissions of short stories, poems and drawings from all over the country for the literary journal. They even host a Banned Book Week every September where someone volunteers to live in the library for an entire week.
In 2016, Briscoe was named the Delta Upsilon Volunteer of the Year. Beyond the museum and fraternity, Briscoe volunteers in the Carmel community as well.
Each year, he helps run the Woodland Country Club’s Woodland Christmas Club For Needy Children. The charity takes care of children in Hamilton County during Thanksgiving and Christmas. They raise about $200,000 a year and volunteers adopt families for Christmas to buy them gifts. All proceeds go to the families, including buying groceries that last throughout the holidays.
“Giving back is important,” Briscoe says. “I want to keep my mind active and be doing stuff that matters.”
For more information on the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library, visit vonnegutlibrary.org.