Born 1965, in Mooreland, IN; married three times (divorced); children: Katie; (third marriage) Obadiah. Education: Ball State University, B.A.; attended Earlham School of Religion and North Carolina State College. Religion: Society of Friends ("Quaker").
Home—Durham, NC. Agent—Bill Clegg, Burnes & Clegg, Inc., 1133 Broadway, Suite 1020, New York, NY 10010.
Nominee, Orange Prize (England), 2003, for The Solace of Leaving Early; has received two National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grants.
A Girl Named Zippy: Growing up Small in Mooreland, Indiana (memoir), Doubleday (New York, NY), 2001.
The Solace of Leaving Early (first novel in trilogy), Doubleday (New York, NY), 2002.
Orville: A Dog Story (picture book), illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Something Rising (Light and Swift) (second novel in trilogy), Free Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible, edited by Peter Manseau and Jeff Sharlet, Free Press (New York, NY), 2004, and Remarkable Reads: 35 Writers and Their Adventures in Reading, edited by J. Peder Zane, Norton (New York, NY), 2004. Contributor of poetry, as Haven Koontz, to journals, including Hopewell Review, Sycamore Review, Yellow Silk, and Ball State University Forum.
The Solace of Leaving Early was optioned for a film, to be directed by Mike Nichols.
Work in Progress
Third novel in the trilogy which includes The Solace of Leaving Early and Something Rising (Light and Swift).
"If there is ever going to be a Midwestern gothic, it will not be written by me," author Haven Kimmel told Book contributor Lisa Levy. "I don't see the Midwest as a place filled with bumbling, malignant, stupid people." Kimmel has firsthand knowledge of the region, having been born and raised in Indiana, and she has also used the area as the setting for three books. Her memoir, A Girl Named Zippy: Growing up Small in Mooreland, Indiana, put Kimmel's name and face on the literary map. A "love letter" to her hometown, as Library Journal contributor Pam Kingsbury described the book, A Girl Named Zippy found readership both in the United States and in England, and was noted for demonstrating a compassionate voice with all the characters. This same voice was at play in Kimmel's first novel, The Solace of Leaving Early, also set in Indiana, and in her second novel, Something Rising (Light and Swift). Levy commended the author for populating her books with "extremely literate, philosophical and spiritually curious people" that are perhaps not unlike Kimmel herself.
A Hoosier Background
Kimmel was born in Mooreland, Indiana, in 1965. With a population of only a few hundred and boasting three churches and one gas station, the town was small enough for a young girl to explore thoroughly as she grew up, and to come to know all the inhabitants. As Kimmel told Karen Valby in Entertainment Weekly, there was nothing to do on Friday nights "except get drunk, drive around, crash into tombstones, and get pregnant." Growing up, Kimmel had no dreams of becoming a writer. Instead, her "only real dream," as she related to Kelley Kawano in Bold Type, "was to be a rodeo star. Wait, that's not true. There was a time I thought I'd make a good prison guard, and my sister agreed with me." Nonetheless, Kimmel began writing at age nine, "automatically and without intention—like a savant," she explained to Kawano. Except in Kimmel's case, writing was in fact copying stories out of a story collection by Ray Bradbury, then showing the results to her mother and claiming them to be her creations. "It is, perhaps, rare for a person to be both a savant and a plagiarist," Kimmel quipped to Kawano. Plagiarist or not, Kimmel was supported in her creative endeavors by an understanding parent. Finally, she decided that copying stories was boring, and that she could even see places where she could improve the plot by, for example, having a girl's nose serve as a howitzer.
She remained in Indiana for her undergraduate studies, attending Ball State University in Muncie, where she graduated with degrees in English and creative writing. "I would say," Kimmel told Kawano, "with only a slight measure of hysteria and hyperbole, that by the time I was twenty-one I
[Image not available for copyright reasons]
had given my life over to poetry." One early publication was a poem titled "Heartland," published in the Sycamore Review. This poetry phase lasted for fifteen years.
A lifelong Quaker, Kimmel, at age twenty-six, entered a seminary at the Earlham School of Religion. As she further recounted for Valby, "I called the dean and said, 'I am a heathen and a hopeless sinner, and I fall short of the grace of God every single day, and I will never be the type of believer anyone wants me to be, but I want to come to your school.'" The dean welcomed her to attend, but she ultimately dropped the studies, having already begun writing what would become her first novel by penning a chapter about an eccentric neighbor, Edythe Koontz. Thereafter she attended North Carolina State, studying creative writing, but also stopped these studies after a time. However, she did stay on in her new state, settling in Durham. Along the way she also had three marriages and two children. And she continued to work on the tales and remembrances that would, after much revision, form the heart of her first book, A Girl Named Zippy.
Memoirs and Novels
In Kimmel's memoir she writes of a young girl who is nicknamed Zippy for her rather vigorous miming of a monkey. Zippy's first words begin at age three, but thereafter they come fast and furious. Like Kimmel, Zippy was born in 1965 in Moorehead, Indiana, a town populated by strange and loving people, and the young girl's world is also populated by a wide variety of animals. Kingsbury wrote that Kimmel's book is "filled with good humor, fine storytelling, and acute observations of small town life." Similarly, Booklist's Mary Carroll felt that despite its "awful" title, "Kimmel's childhood memoir rings true," and went on to conclude that the "simple, poignant memoir, reads like fine historical fiction." And in Publishers Weekly, a contributor noted that Kimmel's "smooth, impeccably humorous prose evokes her childhood as vividly as any novel." Kimmel's narrator's voice carries the day, as she tells of her first bike or recalls looking at comic books at the drugstore. "There is no single element in Zippy I worked on harder, longer, or with more conscious deliberation than the voice," Kimmel told Kawano. "And, as you've noticed, the voice dictated the content." Whatever the secret formula, A Girl Named Zippy took off, was chosen by television's Today Show for its book club, and reached the top of national bestseller charts.
By the time of publication of A Girl Named Zippy Kimmel was already hard at work on a proposed trilogy of novels set in Indiana. The first, The Solace of Leaving Early, features another heroine drawn closely from Kimmel's own life. Langston Braverman comes back to her Indiana hometown after walking out on her doctoral oral exams. It does not help that she has also been dumped by her professor boyfriend. But once back home she finds that her childhood friend, Alice, has been shot by her estranged husband. In the same town, Amos Townsend is a preacher who was counseling Alice and is a man who feels bereft now that he was unable to stop the violence. Out of this crisis in two separate lives, a new romance is formed. Thrown together when Langston begins to take care of Alice's two children, Amos and Langston "are forced to confront their own demons," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who also found this debut novel "intelligent and compassionate."
[Image not available for copyright reasons]
Some critics of Kimmel's first novel, such as Alfred Hickling of London's Guardian, found Langston to be "one of the most precocious intellectual prigs in literature." Likewise, a writer for Kirkus Reviews described Kimmel's protagonist as "a humorless intellectual snob further burdened by wooden dialogue never spoken on earth or in heaven." However, Library Journal's Colleen Lougen called this same dialogue "clever and sleek," and further praised Kimmel's novel as a "heartwarming story about troubled individuals who struggle with their problems while finding solace and a degree of peace in one another." Kristine Huntley, writing in Booklist, felt that "Kimmel's debut novel boasts vast theological and philosophical thought as well as unusual but compelling characters." Connie Ogle, reviewing The Solace of Leaving Early in Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, found the novel "engaging," and went on to note that the author "has found an offbeat, original voice with which to tell her bittersweet story." Similarly, George Walden of London's Sunday Telegraph called The Solace of Leaving Early an "arresting first novel," and further observed that "in these relentlessly marketeering times it is good to see a writer dare to intersperse the intellectual with the small dramas of daily life, and to do it unselfconsciously."
Kimmel continues her exploration of small town Midwestern life with the 2004 novel Something Rising (Light and Swift), a book in which, according to Robin Vidimos of the Denver Post, the author "takes a small slice of society, confined to an unremarkable piece of real estate, and captures the reader's heart with unexpected events and characters both familiar
[Image not available for copyright reasons]
and unique." Cassie Claiborne is ten when the reader meets her, and dotes on her mostly absent pool-shark father. She takes the opportunity during her father's visits to learn pool, and by the time he finally abandons his family, Cassie herself has become a pool hustler. At age eighteen she can support herself and her family with her winnings. The story then jumps ahead to catch a further snapshot of Cassie at age thirty, embarking "on a journey that will free her from her past and launch her as her own adult," according to Vidimos.
Judith Kicinski, writing in Library Journal, noted that Kimmel relates more of a "rough-and-tough" story with Something Rising (Light and Swift) than she did in her previous books. Kicinski also felt that "more development of Cassie's character would have helped." Guardian contributor Carrie O'Grady also had mixed praise for this second novel, commending the poetry of the author "which lingers on the landscape and the rough-edged details of Cassie's progress down a difficult path." Still, for O'Grady "if Kimmel had pared down the poetry and stepped up the action, she could have told quite a story." Mark Kamine, writing in the New York Times, complained of "occasional clunky sentences, their meanings elusive, their locutions dubious." Similarly, a critic for Kirkus Reviews summed up the book as "too lugubrious for an elegy, a bit too lighthearted for a caper; [but] still, a serviceable account of a young woman finding her own way in a twilit world of regret and loss."
If you enjoy the works of Haven Kimmel
If you enjoy the works of Haven Kimmel, you may also want to check out the following books:
Ivan Klima, Lovers for a Day, 1999.
Michael Ondaatje, Anil's Ghost, 2000.
Gao Xingjian, One Man's Bible, 2002.
Other reviewers felt more positive about Something Rising (Light and Swift). Ogle called it compelling, while Booklist's Kristine Huntley found it "evocative and fresh," and a "beautiful coming-of-age story." A contributor for Publishers Weekly noted that Kimmel's "characters are sympathetic and believable, and the author proves herself equally deft at conveying smalltown desolation and the physics of pool." Entertainment Weekly reviewer Alyssa Lee joined the chorus of praise, observing that in the novel Kimmel "takes aspects of the everyday and renders them transcendent." And for Malcolm Jones of Newsweek, the "loveliness of Something Rising has nothing to do with talking points and everything to do with the acquaintance of Cassiopeia Claiborne, a young woman growing up in Indiana." Jones concluded that "if this book were a pool game, Kimmel would run the table all night long."
Kimmel has also written a children's book, Orville: A Dog Story, that was actually a chapter that would not fit in her memoir, A Girl Named Zippy. Thus all her published works have focused on the Midwest. In an interview with Dave Weich for Powells.com, she expanded on the trilogy she is creating that celebrates that region. "The Midwest is a simple geographic point in some ways, and in other ways it's very, very complicated—who landed there and why, and what those lives became…. Since this is a trilogy, what I saw as one of my charges was to be as truthful about the place as I could be. In the third book, the next novel, the characters are all different again. If I listened and paid attention, I think it could go on and on."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 11, 2002, David Kirby, review of The Solace of Leaving Early, p. F4.
Book, January-February, 2003, Lisa Levy, "The New Carson McCullers: Haven Kimmel," p. 39.
Booklist, March 15, 2001, Mary Carroll, review of A Girl Named Zippy: Growing up Small in Mooreland, Indiana, p. 1351; June 1, 2002, Kristine Huntley, review of The Solace of Leaving Early, p. 1684; September 15, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Orville: A Dog Story, p. 246; October 15, 2003, Kristine Huntley, review of Something Rising (Light and Swift), p. 357; June 1, 2004, Rosalind Reisner, review of A Girl Named Zippy, p. 1695.
Capital Times (Madison, WI), August 9, 2002, Deborah Hirsch, review of The Solace of Leaving Early, p. A13; May 30, 2003, Heather Lee Schroeder, "Author's First Novel Draws High Acclaim," p. A11.
Denver Post, January 18, 2004, Robin Vidimos, review of Something Rising (Light and Swift), p. F12.
Detroit Free Press, August 11, 2002, Connie Ogle, review of The Solace of Leaving Early.
Entertainment Weekly, January 23, 2004, Allyssa Lee, review of Something Rising (Light and Swift), p. 103; February 27, 2004, Karen Valby, "Just a Small Town Girl," p. 67.
Georgia Review, winter, 2002, Sanford Pinsker, review of A Girl Named Zippy.
Guardian (London, England), November 15, 2003, Alfred Hackling, review of The Solace of Leaving Early, p. 30; June 5, 2004, Carrie O'Grady, review of Something Rising (Light and Swift), p. 27.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2002, review of The Solace of Leaving Early, p. 612; September 1, 2003, review of Orville, p. 1126; October 15, 2003, review of Something Rising (Light and Swift), p. 1244.
Kliatt, November, 2003, Susan Allison, review of The Solace of Leaving Early, p. 16.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, July 10, 2002, Nancy Pate, review of A Girl Named Zippy, p. K1084; August 7, 2002, Connie Ogle, review of The Solace of Leaving Early, p. K1809; January 21, 2004, Connie Ogle, review of Something Rising (Light and Swift), p. K0316.
Library Journal, February 1, 2001, Pam Kingsbury, review of A Girl Named Zippy, p. 103; June 1, 2002, Colleen Lougen, review of The Solace of Leaving Early, p. 196; September 15, 2003, Judith Kicinski, review of Something Rising (Light and Swift), p. 92.
Newsweek, January 26, 2004, Malcolm Jones, review of Something Rising (Light and Swift), p. 59.
New York Times, February 22, 2004, Mark Kamine, review of Something Rising (Light and Swift), p. 16.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), June 16, 2002,, Karen Sandstrom, review of The Solace of Leaving Early, p. J11.
Publishers Weekly, January 15, 2001, review of A Girl Named Zippy, p. 60; May 27, 2002, review of The Solace of Leaving Early, p. 37; September 23, 2002, Daisy Maryles, "Yippy for Zippy," p. 16; September 8, 2003, review of Orville, p. 76; December 8, 2003, review of Something Rising (Light and Swift), p. 46, Ann Abel, "Pool Shark," p. 47.
Raleigh News and Observer, January 4, 2004, Erin McGraw, review of Something Rising (Light and Swift).
San Francisco Chronicle, June 16, 2002, Miriam Wolf, review of The Solace of Leaving Early.
School Library Journal, November, 2003, Wendy Woodfill, review of Orville, p. 102.
Sewanee Review, spring, 2003, review of A Girl Named Zippy.
Sunday Telegraph (London, England), March 16, 2003, George Walden, review of The Solace of Leaving Early.
USA Today, January 13, 2004, Bob Minzesheimer, review of Something Rising (Light and Swift).
Vail Daily, April 8, 2004, Alessandra Mayer, "Meet the Author: Haven Kimmel."
Book Page, http://www.bookpage.com/ (July, 2002), Amy Scribner, review of The Solace of Leaving Early; (January, 2004), Amy Scribner, review of Something Rising (Light and Swift).
Crescent Blues, http://www.crescentblues.com/ (April 21, 2005), Dawn Goldsmith, review of A Girl Named Zippy.
Glide Magazine, http://www.glidemagazine.com/ (February 26, 2003), Jessica Ward, review of The Solace of Leaving Early.
Houghton Mifflin, http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/ (November 13, 2004), "Haven Kimmel."
Official Haven Kimmel Web Site, http://www.haven kimmel.com/ (November 13, 2004).
Our Land, Our Literature, http://www.bsu.edu/ourlandourlit/Literature/ (April 21, 2005), biography of Kimmel.
Powells.com, http://www.powells.com/ (March 2, 2004), Dave Weich, "Haven Kimmel Builds Books to Last" (interview).
Random House, http://www.randomhouse.com/ (November 13, 2004), Kelly Kawano, interview with Kimmel.
Southern Scribe, http://www.southernscribe.com/ (April 21, 2005), Pam Kingsbury, "A Rising Literary Star: An Interview with Haven Kimmel."*