"In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried" originally appeared in TriQuarterly magazine in 1983 It was reprinted in Editors' Choice: New American Stories before being included in Amy Hempel's first published collection of stories, Reasons to Live, in 1985. As her most anthologized story to date, "In the Cemetery" reflects Hempel's ability to blend pathos and comedy. In addition, critics praise Hempel for her poetic use of imagery and concise language that creates a short story filled with meaning. Hempel has compressed the narrative until every unnecessary and distracting detail has been squeezed out. This design allows the reader to impose meaning and order on the events rather than having the story control the reader's final response. Critics most often refer to this stylistic technique as "minimalism." For example, the central setting of ''In the Cemetery" is presented as if it were a Hollywood movie set—a small detail that takes on great significance. The story was written as an assignment for a fiction workshop Hempel was taking in which she was instructed to write about "the thing you will never live down," she told Jo Sapp of the Missouri Review. Hempel's story about betraying a dying friend is dedicated to Jessica Wolfson, a friend who died of a terminal disease.