When Roger Straus introduced me to Kurt Vonnegut at a PEN seminar circa 1970, the publisher of so many Nobel Laureates it was rumored he had an apartment in Stockholm predicted we would be “fast friends.” I never did find out what inspired Roger’s gift for prophesy, but soon after we met Kurt and I were off to the races, or rather on our way to tennis courts, ping-pong tables and seats at matinees of “moobin pitchers.” (We only mad it through the first hour of Bob Guccione’s Caligula before Kurt stood up to leave with a whispered review, “Too much of a good thing.”

Kurt’s devotion to PEN was expressed through the years by his participation at board meetings that for one brief spell varied from feisty debates to group therapy. Kurt and I would bat it around later. I recall learning he had been a fan of John Irving’s since the days he’d discovered John when he was a student at the University of Iowa’s graduate writing program.

I learned, too, of Kurt’s friendship with Norman Mailer, dating back to the days when they were residents of Cape Cod. PEN is like that: writers bonded by shared commitment to freedom of expression and responsibility for colleagues imprisoned and abused throughout the world. Old friends and recent acquaintances sometimes becoming a version of an extended family.

Often through the years Kurt would remind me that he considered me his “best friend.” He inscribed that distinction in books and on paintings. When he died last week my family—our family—responded with shared recollections and warm memories. Our fourteen-year-old granddaughter Lily contributed a poem:

Kurt Vonnegut

I saw you
The bookshelf
It never occurred to me
What you meant to my grandpa
Or who you were
 I saw you
And once in someone’s backpack
I saw you
Pictures with my grandpa, both of you young, proud, relaxed
My grandpa’s wall
I saw your meaning
My grandpa’s lips. “My bud for 40 years.
Kurt told me
I was his best friend.”
I see you
The front page of the paper
I see a distant smile
A familiar face
But not a familiar subject
“Kurt Vonnegut . . . Is Dead at 84.”
I saw you
But not like my grandfather did

I’ll see you no more

–Lily Offit
April 12, 2007