MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Michael Kimball was born two weeks late during the Great Midwest Blizzard of 1967. His father was huge, weighing as much as 450 pounds, and could be very scary. He had fast hands and nobody ever knew when he would go into a rage. But Michael's mother was incredibly giving, often doing without so that her three children could have clothes for school, shoes for the basketball team.
That's the beginning of Michael Kimball's life story and you can find it on his blog, it's called "Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story on a Postcard."
Michael is all grown up now. He lives in Baltimore, where he's a writer. And today, we're going to talk to him about his ongoing project. He writes people's biographies on postcards.
So you've been doing this for how long?
Mr. MICHAEL KIMBALL (Writer): It started last April of 2008.
BRAND: It's a little over a year. How did you get into this?
Mr. KIMBALL: It happened kind of by accident. A friend of mine was curating a performance arts festival in Baltimore, asked me why I wasn't participating as a joke. I answered that I was a writer, that writers don't do performance art. And then we started joking about what a writer might do as performance art, that the writer should be able to write somebody's life story. And then we took that to an absurd point with the idea of taking everyone's life and putting them on a postcard.
BRAND: Why do people want to talk to you, basically a complete stranger, pour their heart out and tell very intimate details of their lives, in some cases, and have it published on the blog for all to see? Why do people want that?
Mr. KIMBALL: I don't think people are asked many questions about their lives. I think it's something that just doesn't happen so much in our culture. There are a lot of people who are putting themselves out there in different ways, everything from status updates to tweets to whatever is on their MySpace page or their own blog, but we don't have people asking questions.
And it seems to me if there were two ways to group the people who come to the blog: people with a certain kind of ego, who want how good they are and what they've done sort of given back to them. But then the people that interest me the most are people who have had interesting or difficult lives in some way, who have really lived a lot. It can be a way for that person, if they've had a difficult life, to sort of reclaim their life.
BRAND: Let me read one of your postcards, or the beginning of one, Number 67, that's on your blog.
BRAND: (Reading) Gena Mohwish's father went to prison before she really knew him. Gena remembers going to random houses with her mother to buy drugs, and then her mother went to a mental hospital to be treated for schizophrenia, anorexia, and drug abuse. When her mother wasn't in the mental hospital, she was fighting with her boyfriend. There was always fighting around her.
BRAND: That must have been a difficult postcard to write.
Mr. KIMBALL: To that point, that was the most difficult postcard I'd ever tried to write. And there was so much story there for a very young person. And so I struggled with a couple of things. One, trying to honor the difficulty of her life and still include all those details because that was something that was very important to her, to get all of that story out there. The other part was presenting the material in an even-handed way, to not make it sentimental, but also to not sensationalize it.
BRAND: And on a lighter note, you have on your blog a postcard, or a life story, I should say, of an apple, which I found delightful. It was really funny.
Mr. KIMBALL: There is one for an umbrella cover because I met a woman in Peaks Island, Maine, who runs the Umbrella Cover Museum. There is one for a cat, who is actually my cat, a feral cat that I rescued.
BRAND: So not just people, animals and umbrella covers have life stories.
Mr. KIMBALL: There are life stories everywhere.
BRAND: You just have to ask.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. KIMBALL: You just have to ask.
(Soundbite of laughter)
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BRAND: Michael Kimball writes life stories on the backs of postcards when he's not writing novels. He can fit up to 600 words on the back of one postcard. Don't believe me? Check out a few at our newly redesigned Web site, and while you're there, you can read the postcard life story that Michael wrote for me. That's at npr.org.
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