When Michael Kimball’s changed his wildly popular postcard project Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard) to Everybody Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard), I had to know why. So I caught up with Michael and asked him a few questions:
Jen Michalski: You posted a blog last week, Everybody Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard), about your decision to open up Postcard Life Stories, which came as a surprise to me and yet was entirely understandable, considering how long you’ve been doing it and how many you’ve written. A few other writers have written postcards for you before (Sam Ligon wrote your life story; Bridget Holding wrote one for Jackie Juno). Was there a specific incident this time that fueled your decision to open it up to everybody?
Michael Kimball: There were a couple of things that led to the decision to open the project up. One is that I became swamped with requests after NPR’s All Things Considered covered the project back in July. I couldn’t keep up and the waiting list kept getting longer and I wanted everybody who wanted one to have one. Another is that Bridget Holding got in touch with me and told me that she had started using the project in her work as a psychotherapist. We had a nice chat about writing them for people, what it is like to do that, and I realized that I shouldn’t keep this to myself anymore. I was a little surprised by the response, but happily so. Right now, there are about 20 writers working on life stories for different people.
JM: Have you thought about creating physical spaces, eg, Baltimore Is Reads, where people can read the life stories of people in their own cities? A simultaneously run gallery exhibit or public space or such? A documentary?
MK: Luca Dipierro (my partner in Little Burn Films) and I have talked about filming one of them, the interview and the writing of it, but we haven’t gotten to that yet. A bunch of them were re-published as art objects in Locus Magazine; I was really happy about that. And Cat Rocketship is in the early stages of getting a bunch of artists together to illustrate some of them and then have an art show around them. For anybody with other ideas, I’m open. I’ve always thought of this as a collaborative project at its heart (that is, I couldn’t write the life stories if people didn’t share them with me).
JM: At some point, everything comes to an end. When you read the first postcard and the last postcard of Postcard Life Stories, what will be different about them? The same?
MK: #1 Bart O’Reilly is already very different from #222 Alan Reese. The obvious difference is that they are much longer and hold a lot more details of a person’s life. The thing that has stayed the same is the tone, an attempt to honor each person’s life in an objective fashion.
I also have to say that I’m not sure this project will ever end (as long as there are people to write about). The new goal of the project is to write the postcard life story for everybody (in the world). My hope is that the project keeps getting bigger and bigger—more writers, more lives (so, you know, if you’re interested, please get in touch).
JM: This really isn’t a question, but thanks for doing the Postcard Life Stories. It strikes me, in the age of Facebook and Twitter and reality television, that we still don’t know anybody. But your postcards have always made me feel a lot closer to so many people I may never meet. And I’m sure many people feel the same way, or it wouldn’t have become as successful as it did.
(Jen Michalski’s Postcard Life Story can be found here.)