Student’s reflections on meeting author Haven Kimmel

I first met Zippy six years ago. Back then she was only a book on my lap, an image created from words. I loved her immediately. I loved her stories of wacky encounters with the weirdos of her small town. She was so funny she made me snort food out my nose on a number of occasions. This girl named Zippy was also the one who inducted me into the world of memoir, beginning a long love affair with a new kind of book. There is something thrilling about being able to peek into a stranger’s life from the comfort of your couch.

I was reading about a girl who seemed in so many ways like me and she had grown up to write this fabulous book about her childhood. Zippy embodied the kind of writer I wished I could be. I felt, devouring her memoir, that she might as well have been standing in the middle of an open highway, holding up a bright yellow sign that read, “I did it, so can you!”

Well, almost. I was young then. Zippy got me dreaming. I’ve realized since that nothing is ever so easy. Still, Zippy gave me a one-way ticket into my favorite genre and I’ve been stuck reading memoir ever since. I don’t regret one page. Whenever I crack open a new spine, I silently thank Zippy for my precious discovery of another good read.

After being so enamored with a book, getting to meet its author provides a bizarre intersecting of worlds: the dizzying, colorful one in your head and regular old life. Zippy, now known as Haven Kimmel, was every bit as funny in person as she was on the page. I sat bone-still in my chair when she came to town, in disbelief that I was looking at Zippy herself. I clutched my well-worn copy of her childhood relic, remembering how often I’d dog-eared pages, how many people I’d recommended it to. I listened to her read chapters from a new novel, laughing along with the rest of the room. I noticed that her neck turned splotchy the longer she spoke, that she often paused to talk to us like we’d known each other for years. And I began to realize that while Haven Kimmel had written a beloved memoir that helped to shape my growing up years, while she could do crazy things with language that most of us only dream about, she was just a person. She would talk to us for a while, let her voice make us all sultry with sleep and then crack us back to life through another witty joke. She would sign our books, probably kind of hating by now her sought-after signature. She would go back to an empty hotel room and wake up to drive home to her life. She was just like the rest of us, aside from the fact that she wrote fourteen hours a day and grew up in a town of three hundred people.

This was, perhaps, the best thing I could have learned. Writers are regular people creating extraordinary works. They make the world laugh and cry and marvel at words, at the ability of language to connect and explain the everyday through such fantastic means. They work hard and long and after a book is written, they don’t ever want to lay eyes on the thing again. But I am hoping that some, like Haven Kimmel, know just what her books mean to certain girls trying to figure life out. She has only just recently given me faith that since I am normal (or maybe not so normal, given the day) it could be possible to do what Zippy does.

It seems I owe that little troublemaker quite a lot.  ~ Kate Stoltzfus 10/2010