Amy Hempel

Amy Hempel bigraphy, stories - Short story writer

Amy Hempel : biography

December 14, 1951 –

Amy Hempel (born December 14, 1951) is an American short story writer, journalist, and teaches creative writing at Bennington College and at Harvard University.


Hempel was born in Chicago, Illinois. She lives in New York and is Briggs-Copeland Lecturer of English at Harvard University, where she began teaching in 2009.

Additionally, she teaches fiction at in the Low-Residency MFA Program in Writing at Bennington College. She has previously taught at Sarah Lawrence College, Duke University, The New School, Brooklyn College, and Princeton University. She is also a contributing editor at The Alaska Quarterly Review.

A known dog-enthusiast, Hempel also volunteers at a high-kill shelter in Manhattan and is a founding board member of the Deja Foundation.


Hempel is a former student of Gordon Lish, in whose workshop she wrote several of her first stories. Lish was so impressed with her work that he helped her publish her first collection, Reasons to Live (1985), which includes "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried", the first story she ever wrote. Hempel credits Lish’s influence for the lack of pressure she has felt to become a novelist rather than a short story writer. Sherman, Suzan. . BOMB Magazine. Spring 1997. Retrieved July 25, 2011. Originally published in TriQuarterly in 1983, "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried" is one of the most extensively anthologized stories of the last quarter century.

Hempel has produced three other collections: At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom (1990), which includes the story “The Harvest”; Tumble Home (1997); and The Dog of the Marriage (2005). Tumble Home was Hempel’s first novella, which she structured as a letter to an unspecified recipient and called "the most personal thing I’ve ever written." Both “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” and Tumble Home highlight animals’ ability to express and draw out emotions. In an interview in BOMB Magazine, Hempel explained, "I think there’s a purity of feeling there that humans can connect with if we’re lucky, or if we’re looking for it."

The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel (2006) gathers all the stories from the four earlier books. She co-edited (with Jim Shepard) Unleashed–Poems by Writers’ Dogs (1995), which includes contributions by Edward Albee, John Irving, Denis Johnson, Gordon Lish, Arthur Miller, and many others. She writes articles, essays, and short stories for such publications as Vanity Fair, Interview, BOMB, GQ, ELLE, Harper’s Magazine, The Quarterly, and Playboy. Hempel has participated in several conferences including The Juniper Summer Writing Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s MFA Program for Poets & Writers.

Generally termed a minimalist writer, along with Raymond Carver, Mary Robison, and Frederick Barthelme, Hempel is one of a handful of writers who has built a reputation based solely on short fiction. Hempel purposefully leaves her stories’ narrators unnamed, as "there are more possibilities when you don’t pin down a person with a name and an age and a background because then people can bring something to them or take something from them."


Hempel is a recipient of the Hobson Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2006 she was awarded a USA Fellowship grant by United States Artists, an arts advocacy foundation dedicated to the support and promotion of America’s top living artists. She won the Ambassador Book Award in 2007 for her Collected Stories, which was also named as one of the The New York Times’ Ten Best Books of the year. In 2008 she won the Rea Award for the Short Story. In 2009 she received the PEN/Malamud Award for Short Fiction along with Alistair MacLeod.