Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Author Interview w/ Michael Kimball

It is my pleasure to introduce you, fellow TNBBCers, to author and documentarian Michael Kimball!

Michael Kimball’s third novel, DEAR EVERYBODY, is now in paperback in the US, UK, and Canada. The Believer calls it “a curatorial masterpiece.” Time Out New York calls the writing “stunning.” And the Los Angeles Times says the book is “funny and warm and sad and heartbreaking.”

His first two novels are THE WAY THE FAMILY GOT AWAY (2000) and HOW MUCH OF US THERE WAS (2005). His three novels have been translated (or are being translated) into many languages.

His work has been on NPR’s All Things Considered and in Vice, as well as The Guardian, Prairie Schooner, Post Road, Open City, Unsaid, and New York Tyrant. He is also responsible for Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard)—and two documentary films, I WILL SMASH YOU (2009) and 60 WRITERS/60 PLACES (2010).

I want to thank him for taking the time to answer the following questions, and for allowing us this brief glimpse into his head!

At what point in your life did you realize that you wanted to be a writer?

It wasn’t until I was out of college that I started to take writing seriously, but it was many years and two novels before I actually started to identify as a writer.

Who were your influences? Which authors do you aspire to be like – if any?

I had a lot influences early on. The ones that still really stand out are William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein, Raymond Carver, Richard Brautigan, Lydia Davis, Michael Ondaatje. But I never aspired to be like any particular writer. I was always trying to be my own particular writer.

Of all the books you have written so far, which one was the easiest to write? Which one was the most difficult? Which are you most proud of?

In many ways, Dear Everybody was the easiest to write. The main character writing letters of apology to everybody he has ever known, that voice felt delivered to me. The Way the Family Got Away was easily the most difficult to write—in part because I really didn’t know what I was doing at that point. And I don’t know if proud is the right adjective, but How Much of Us There Was is the book that is most dear to me (and I’m excited that it’s coming out with Tyrant Books later this fall).

For the readers who haven’t seen your 510 readings yet, can you tell them a little about how it began, and how it works?

I started the 510 Readings (with Jen Michalski) because there wasn’t a fiction reading series in Baltimore. We hold it once a month at the Minas Gallery and there are 3-4 readers, each one getting 12 minutes. There are generally standing-room-only crowds and it’s been nice to see the sense of community that has built up around it.

I love your “Life Stories (on a postcard)” blog. How did you come up with that idea, and how do you choose who to spotlight?

My friend Adam Robinson was one of the curators for a performance art festival, the Transmodern in Baltimore, and he asked me if I wanted to participate. I asked him what he thought a writer could do as performance and we made some jokes about that. But then I suggested that I could write people’s life stories for them and then I remembered this bunch of postcards that I had just gotten in the mail. That's how the project started. The first postcard I wrote was for Bart O’Reilly, a painter, who quit art school in Dublin to work as an ice cream man in Ocean City, which is how he met the woman who became his wife. When I finished the postcard and looked up, a line had formed. For the rest of the night, I interviewed dozens of people, wrote each person’s life story, and then gave them the postcard. I did this for four hours straight without getting up out of the chair that I was sitting in. I don’t choose the people; I let the people choose the project. It’s important that they come to the project wanting to tell their life story. Now Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard) includes about 270 life stories (on postcards) and the one thing that I have learned so far is that everybody is amazing.

Can you tell us about your two documentaries “I Will Smash You” and “60 Writers/ 60 Places”?

In I Will Smash You, twenty different people each tell a personal story about an object and then destroy that object. A teenage girl destroys a papier-mâché version of her teacher's head to get the meanness out. A man smashes his procrastination with a cement block. Another man sings his grandfather’s favorite hymn and then swings a baseball bat at the song’s notes. And a woman smashes her car because it is cursed, etc.

60 Writers/60 Places is a film about writers and their writing occupying untraditional spaces, everyday life, everywhere. There is Blake Butler reading in a subway, Deb Olin Unferth in a Laundromat, Jamie Gaughran-Perez in a beauty salon, Tita Chico in a dressing room, Gary Lutz at the botantical gardens, Will Eno in a park, Tao Lin next to a hot dog cart, and Rick Moody on a baseball field. One of the ideas is that the writer and the writing go on no matter what is going on around them.

What is a typical day in your life like?

My days are pretty simple. I get up and work on my own stuff, then I take care of email and the blog. After that, I work on any editing work that I may have. After that, I often go on a mountain bike ride. After that, my wife and I make dinner, watch movies, play with the cats, read, etc.

What is your take on eBooks and eReaders, both as a writer and a reader?

I don’t own an e-reader. As close as I get to one is reading a lot of fiction online. But I’m old school. I like paper and ink. I like to fold the corners of pages down.

Which 5 books would save if your house were to catch fire?

The End of the Story by Lydia Davis, End Zone by Don DeLillo, Oulipo Compendium, Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter, and Will Eno’s The Flu Season—of course, the list is always changing.

What authors/novels/websites would you like to share with our audience?

I really liked Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask and I’m looking forward to new books from Will Eno, David Markson, Lydia Davis, Blake Butler, Amelia Gray, Deb Olin Unferth. I read blogs like Htmlgiant and Big Other every day—a great way to keep up with all the great indies putting out new fiction.

Thanks again Michael - and *gasp* he dog-ears his books. Breathe, Lori, breathe... it will be alright. Everything is ok... No need to freak out... breathe....

I encourage everyone to check out Michael's novel Dear Everybody!!


  1. Great interview! I know all these things about Michael but they always seem new again when I read them.

  2. Jen, it's great of you to comment here. I am glad you liked the interview. Awwww.. I was hoping you wouldn't know everything, darn it!

    Oh well...

  3. Really cool interview. Never read any of his books but I plan to soon! Great blog, too, btw.

  4. Hi Sadako, Thanks for checking it out and for the feedback.