Margaret Kimball's “And Now I Spill the Family Secrets: An Illustrated Memoir,” has the literary world talking. We asked her to create a graphic map memoir of her time at UConn.
Exclusive Illustrations by Margaret Kimball
By David Silverberg
er family never talked about it. But when Margaret Kimball ’06 (SFA) was four, her mother attempted suicide on Mother’s Day while the rest of the family was at church. They were still not talking when, during Kimball’s senior year of high school, her mother’s bipolar disorder kept her in the hospital for a couple weeks.
Kimball is talking — and drawing — now in “And Now I Spill the Family Secrets: An Illustrated Memoir,” which has the literary world talking, too. Publishers Weekly calls the book “riveting,” Library Journal says “thoroughly brilliant,” and Kirkus is “eager for a successor.”
To create the graphic memoir, Kimball had to investigate her own childhood as if it belonged to someone else. She interviewed her family and combed through photos, albums, and old diaries to understand and relay the nuances of living in a home where the specter of mental illness hovers over everything.
It was more than a decade ago that the writing process for the book actually began, however.
“At UConn, I was writing essays about my mother and bipolar disorder, so this book has been on my mind for years,” says Kimball. “I remember writing one essay in particular about the manic episode my mom had when I was around 16, the one where she threw water at me. I tend to think of this essay as the very beginning of my book, the first thing I wrote after my older brother told me about my mom’s 1988 suicide attempt.”
Kimball submitted that essay to the “Coming of Age in American Autobiography” course she took with now-retired UConn English professor Lynn Bloom.
“She was the most influential professor I ever had,” Kimball says of Bloom. “She introduced me to the world of memoir, works by Joan Didion, Anne Fadiman, Mary Morris, and she helped me write with clarity and passion for a subject matter.”
Bloom remembers Kimball being “smart, independent, creative, and always thinking outside the box.” After reading Kimball’s book, Bloom says she thought the work expertly blended images and text to tackle a very difficult subject matter.
“I don’t always remember every student I’ve had but I sure remember Margaret, and I’m glad we’ve kept in touch all these years,” she says.
A popular commercial artist, Kimball credits her time at UConn with instilling in her the work discipline she applies today. “When I was learning illustration in the art department, I got a good handle on the fundamentals of creating strong commercial art, from the initial sketch to handing in the final image.”
Heading to UConn in the first place was an easy choice for Kimball. Her parents met in Belden Hall during the Blizzard of 1978 and tales of their time there had often enthralled young Margaret.
“I remember my dad driving me to UConn freshman year, to the Jungle, where I was assigned to live. He shared a few stories from his time there, like how his roommate once drove his motorcycle through the halls.” Her father often visited her at UConn, and “we’d do things together like ice skate, eat at Kathy John’s, or stop by the Dairy Bar.”
After graduation, Kimball headed to the University of Arizona to earn two MFAs, in creative writing and visual communications, and she soon realized how she could blend both passions into a personal project.
“One of the greatest things I get from art is the mental theater I can create with my illustrations,” she says. “I’ve always loved graphic memoirs and how they can create an immersive environment for their characters.”
Her graphics, and in particular her hand lettering, have earned her an impressive client list that includes Smithsonian magazine, Simon & Schuster, McDonald’s, and Macy’s. She recently collaborated with other artists on a 30-foot mural for the City of Cleveland. Near the West Side Market, its theme is celebrating literature. Her contribution illustrates the word “yes” with flowers blooming from it.
Kimball is also known for her illustrated mind maps, such as the one on the following pages, which we asked her to create for this magazine about her time at UConn.
“I’ve always loved maps and how they can be living documents of reality,” Kimball says.