Called a raw new voice in American fiction by Rolling Stone magazine for his story “Utah Died for Your Sins,” Pushcart Prize winner Max Zimmer was born in Switzerland, brought across the Atlantic at the age of four, and raised in Utah like his young protagonist in the take-no-prisoners crucible of the Mormon faith. He earned a B.A. and an M.A. from the University of Utah and was teaching fiction, working on a doctorate in writing, when he was invited east for a summer at Yaddo, a writer’s retreat in the upstate New York town of Saratoga.
He never intended to stay in the East. He was there to finish a sprawling novel about the West and return home to his family and friends and the students he loved. But one reason for staying kept leading to another. From Yaddo he took a job teaching fiction in the Writing Arts Program at a SUNY campus in the town of Oswego on the shore of Lake Ontario. It was there, in the summer of 1978, that If Where You’re Going Isn’t Home was first conceived, as a long love story. From Oswego, he gravitated toward the city, lived and tended bar in Manhattan, and wrote for the power industry to pay the rent while he kept writing fiction, practicing and developing his craft. After seven years, more than ready for the mainland again, he moved to the northwest corner of New Jersey, where he married his wife Toni and settled in to write If Where You’re Going Isn’t Home from the beginning.
He still lived with the sense that Utah was his home. That he’d come East on some kind of visa. That after this thing, and then after that thing, he’d get around to making the move back. Then, coming back from a visit out to Utah one winter, he got off the plane at Newark Airport and headed for the door off the second floor of the terminal that led to a small roof where people stepped out for a smoke before heading for the baggage carousels downstairs. It was night, the high lights wore the halos of a cold mist, the whine of idling jets came from the tarmac, baggage trucks trailed their toy carts around below him, and the deep raw whistling hum of the highways came out of the surrounding night. And there it was. That singular response. That dimension of depth and permanence. The East had become his home. Utah had become a place he was from, a place he wrote about.
Among Max’s published works are poems, stories, reviews, magazine articles, short biographies, and liner notes for jazz albums. Success came quickly once he started writing. Following its nomination by Ray Carver, his first published story “Utah Died for Your Sins” was awarded the Pushcart Prize, and singled out in a Rolling Stone review. He has read at venues ranging from coffee shops to SUNY writers’ conferences to the Pen New Writers Series. E. L. Doctorow, John Cheever, Jack Cady, Grace Paley, Lewis Turco, and John Gardner are among other established writers who have acknowledged and championed his writing and storytelling talent. On a coast-to-coast tour following the release of Ragtime, E. L. Doctorow read his work in Utah, and called it the best writing he’d seen the entire tour. After meeting him on a similar tour following the publication of Falconer, John Cheever enthusiastically promoted his work for the last five years of his life.
As a break from the long and ambitious project that If Where You’re Going Isn’t Home has been, Max writes poetry, short fiction, and for the last eight years an anything-goes humor and human interest column under the heading “Actual Mileage” – inspired by a Ray Carver story – for an automotive magazine with an international readership. As a rare break from writing period, he’ll go out and hear some musicians he knows play jazz, spend time with his family, hang out with a circle of local writers, or take his homebuilt Porsche Speedster out and spend a couple of evening hours lost on the roads through the woods and hills and farmland out toward the Delaware River and the Poconos.