Monday, August 06, 2007

THE WORLD OF BILL ZIMMERMAN

How does it happen that the Editor-In-Chief of a prominent financial newspaper becomes the author of 16 books about topics like make-believe, imagination, doodles, and daydreams? Read below to find out.

Bill Zimmerman got interested in writing when he was in elementary school. He’s open about the fact that childhood was not an easy time for him. He grew up in a chaotic household with lots of raised voices and "had a terrible time in school.”

When Bill was in first grade, his teacher stayed after school with him for months on a daily basis. She helped him identify letters and their sounds. According to Bill, she was the first adult in his life who provided a safe space for him to be in. And she was his link to the world of reading and writing. Reading, according to Bill, was an activity where he felt transported to another world, a world where no one could put him down. That early experience laid the foundation for the 16 books that Bill would author as adult: each one of those boks is a variation on the theme of creating one’s own world by transcending difficulties or limitations.

As a young adult, Bill loved newspapers and wanted to know what journalism was all about. So he got a spot on the staff of the college paper and worked his way up to being an editor. The newspaper staff, whom Bill describes as “bright, nutty, curious people,” became his surrogate family.

Following college, Bill became the copyeditor of American Banker, a highly-respected daily financial newspaper. With diligence, he worked his way to the positions of Editor-in-Chief and Senior Vice President. After leaving American Banker in 1989, Bill became Senior Editor at Newsday. There, he created the syndicated Student Briefing Page which was twice-nominated for a Pulitzer.
In the middle of his 26 years at American Banker, Bill fell ill. As part of his recuperation, he spent a month at Martha’s Vineyard. In the local library, he discovered a tape cassette which featured children’s interviews with residents of a senior home. The interviews revealed what life had been like for these elders when they were growing up on the Vineyard. Inspired by the cassette, Bill wrote his own book about how family members could become journalists by putting each others’ stories on audiotape. The book, How to Tape Instant Oral Biographies, generated thousands of orders and was written up in The New York Times.

From that first success, Bill wrote A Book of Questions and then Make Beliefs: A Gift for Your Imagination. In both books, Bill invites the reader to write or draw responses to questions. The questions are designed to spark use of the imagination, to see the world differently. Bill’s newest book ties nicely into that self-stated thread of transformation. It’s called Doodles and Daydreams: Your Passport for Becoming an Escape Artist. On page 161, Bill says: “Escape artists build escalators to heaven in their minds.” On the same page, he invites the reader to write about what she hopes heaven on earth would be like. The text is accompanied by the whimsical and joyful doodles of Bill’s collaborator, Tom Bloom.

Since leaving his job at Newsday in 2004, Bill has continued to write and teach. In a typical day, he may also read, create websites, play the recorder, do Tai Chi, swim, walk, or grow plants. Bill has two interactive websites - Bill’z Treasure Chest and Make Beliefs Comics.
Visiting Bill's websites as well as his books is a marvelous way to enter the world of a man who has made the world a sweeter place for his readers through messages of possibility, hope, and creative transformation.
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