Amy Hempel

Amy Hempel is a recipient of awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the United States Artists Foundation, and the Academy of Arts and Letters. She is the author of Sing to It, Reasons to Live, At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom, Tumble Home, and The Dog of the Marriage, and is co-editor of Unleashed. Her stories have appeared in Harper’s, GQ, Vanity Fair, and many other publications, and have been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Her Collected Stories was named by the New York Times as one of the ten best books of 2007, and won the Ambassador Book Award for best fiction of the year. In 2008 she received the REA Award for the Short Story, and in 2009 she received the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story. She has a B.A. in Journalism from San Jose State University and teaches in the Graduate Writing Program at Bennington College and at Stony Brook Southampton. She lives near New York City.

“It's astonishing that Hempel can pack so much emotion into so few words. . . . There's not a story in Sing to It that's less than brilliant, and the collection itself is even greater than the sum of its parts. Hempel occasionally draws comparisons to authors like Mary Robison and Joy Williams, but she writes like nobody else—she's an irreplaceable literary treasure who has mastered the art of the short story more skillfully than just about any other writer out there. Sing to It is a quiet masterpiece by a true American original.”
–NPR Books

“Each purified sentence [in Sing to It] is itself a story, a kind of suspended enigma. . . . Hempel, like some practical genius of the forest, can make living structures out of what look like mere bric-a-brac, leavings, residue. It’s astonishing how little she needs to get something up and going on the page. A pun, a malapropism, or a ghost rhyme is spark enough.”
–James Wood, The New Yorker

More about Hempel’s biography from Paul Winner, The Paris Review (summer 2003, issue 166):

Born in 1951, Hempel grew up in Chicago and Denver before moving at sixteen to California, the inspiration for what would eventually become the extraordinary, unreal setting for her earliest fiction. She spent time in and around San Francisco until, over a two-year span, a series of significant events unfolded: her mother took her own life, her mother’s younger sister soon followed, she was injured in two massive auto accidents, and three years later, her best friend—a young woman who became well-known through Hempel’s most anthologized story, “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried”—died from leukemia.

  In 1975, Hempel moved to New York City, worked through a couple of publishing jobs, then located a nighttime writing class at Columbia with Gordon Lish, a writer and editor at Knopf whose demanding workshops (Tactics of Fiction) became legendary. Their classes together would mark the start of a long professional relationship, resulting in the 1985 publication of her first book, a brilliantly stylized array of short pieces entitled Reasons to Live. At a time when short stories were a publishing standard, hers were an immediate success.