Amy Hempel Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Amy Hempel is associated with minimalism, though she disparages the term, preferring that her short stories be referred to as “miniatures.” The daughter of Gardiner and Gloria Hempel, she has experienced much personal grief: the death of a close friend, her mother’s suicide, her father’s mental illness, and her own trauma in traffic accidents. Hempel once remarked in an interview that Gordon Lish, her creative writing instructor at Columbia University, greatly influenced her when he challenged students to strive for originality over creativity. Hempel maintained that creativity alone was not sufficient to produce art; for her, good writing must add something genuinely new to the world. Resisting pressure from publishers to write a novel, Hempel chose to write highly condensed, elliptical short fiction. Her short stories were published in important literary and cultural magazines and were widely anthologized.

Born in Chicago, when she was in third grade Hempel moved to Denver, Colorado, where she lived for eight years before moving to San Francisco. After living in California, she made her home in New York City. She attended Whittier College (1969-1971), San Francisco State University (1973-1974), and Columbia University (1981). She originally studied journalism and later worked as a contributing editor for several magazines. She also worked as a volunteer counselor for a crisis center. Hempel considered her twenties to be her “lost years,” though her friendships with actors in improvisational comedy groups during this period taught her about the aesthetic possibilities of using offbeat expression to render the absurd nature of human experience. She started writing short stories in her early thirties and taught in several prestigious writing programs.

Her first short-story collection, Reasons to Live, won both the Silver Medal for the Commonwealth Club of California and the Pushcart Prize. While not strictly autobiographical, the stories probed circumstances of unexpected pain and disaster that had parallels in Hempel’s...

(The entire section is 843 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Amy Hempel was born in Chicago, the eldest of three children (she has two younger brothers). Her family moved to Denver when she was in the third grade, and when she was in high school they moved to San Francisco. Her mother committed suicide when Hempel was eighteen, and at about the same time, Hempel was involved in two serious auto accidents. She spent a number of years in California and studied at both Whittier College and San Francisco State University, and she held a variety of jobs in her twenties. She attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont for a while but started writing in earnest when she studied with author Gordon Lish in a fiction workshop at Columbia University in 1982. (Lish arranged for her first collection of stories to be published in 1985.) After settling in New York City with her husband, Hempel worked as an editor and contributor to several periodicals and taught and lectured at a number of writing programs and workshops.


(Short Stories for Students)

Born December 14,1951, in Chicago, Illinois, Amy Hempel moved to San Francisco as a teenager and attended several California colleges during...

(The entire section is 337 words.)