Robin Hemley

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Robin Hemley attends a kindergarten music class for DO-OVER!

Robin Hemley, born May 28, 1958 in New York City, is a Jewish American nonfiction and fiction writer, author of twelve books, most recently, the short story collection, REPLY ALL (Break Away Books, Indiana University Press, 2012).

Biography[edit]

Robin Hemley was born to a literary family. His parents were both translators and editors of the work of Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer. His father, Cecil Hemley, was co-founder, with Arthur A. Cohen, of The Noonday Press, and his mother, Elaine Gottlieb Hemley, published fiction and poetry.

He graduated from Indiana University in Comparative Literature and from the University of Iowa with an MFA in Fiction.

He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship as well as fellowships from the Illinois Arts Council, the North Carolina Arts Council, the Ohioana Library Association, and the Washington State Arts Council.

He has had artist residencies at the MacDowell Colony, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Ragdale, The Hermitage, The Bogliasco Foundation, and the Edward Albee Foundation.

His awards include two Pushcart Prizes for Fiction, first place in the Nelson Algren Award for Fiction from The Chicago Tribune, and the Independent Press Book Award for Nonfiction.

In 2004, he began teaching at the University of Iowa where he was hired as the Director of the Nonfiction Writing Program, and since 2000 he has taught at Vermont College (now Vermont College of Fine Arts) where he served as Faculty Chair for three years. He has also taught at the University of Utah, Western Washington University, St. Lawrence University, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

At Western Washington University, he edited The Bellingham Review for five years and founded the Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction and the Annie Dillard Award for Nonfiction. At the University of Iowa, he founded the NonfictioNow Conference in 2005.

In 2013, he was hired as the Director of the Writing Program, Writer-in-Residence, and Professor of Humanities at Yale-NUS College in Singapore.

He is the Founder and President of NonfictioNOW, an international conference on the myriad forms of nonfiction that has been held at The University of Iowa, RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, Northern Arizona University and most recently at The University of Iceland. Nonfictionow.org

He is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at RMIT University.

He currently lives in Singapore, is married, and has four daughters.

Selected critical commentary[edit]

DO-OVER! In Which a forty-eight-year-old father of three returns to kindergarten, summer camp, the prom, and other embarrassments[edit]

"Robin Hemley is on my very short list of writers I not only wish to read, not only need to read, but downright can't wait to read. Do-Over! is quintessential Hemley, full of wit and invention and brilliant language and warm humanity and when you least expect it-mid-bellylaugh, mid-bon mot-he will sneak up on you with a dazzlingly smart, deep-cutting insight into human nature. Do-Over! is an instant classic." — Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

"Robin Hemley has pulled out all the stops and managed to take that familiar wistful longing—the if-only sensation we have in regarding the past—and turned disappointment and chagrin into exhilarating time-travel. This series of reprises from childhood and youth has a charm that goes beyond a backward look, and becomes a touching mid-life memoir in which the heart of a child is soothed and liberated." — Patricia Hampl, author of The Florist's Daughter

"While it is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, what makes this book so absolutely endearing is the honesty and tender, humane insight of the author, and his reluctant, hard-won willingness to forgive his former self. A screwball premise winningly pulled off, Do-Over! should charm readers everywhere." — Phillip Lopate, author of Portrait of My Body

"Do-Over! is one of the funniest, wisest, most perfectly observed books I've ever read. Robin Hemley possesses a keen insight into the all-too-human wish to rectify our past mistakes. He also knows that we are better for having made them." — Bernard Cooper, author of The Bill From My Father

Invented Eden: The Elusive, Disputed History of the Tasaday[edit]

"Besides a terrific story, Invented Eden is a savvy caution." — Harper's Magazine

"Hemley, a thoughtful novelist and memoirist, painstakingly unravels a dense snarl of romantic notions, political agendas, scientific rivalries, thorny personalities, and rampant misperceptions to disclose a far stranger tale." — Booklist

"What's best about the book is Hemley's insistence on ambiguity; the truth, he notes, cannot be known because there is no one truth, but many different, overlapping strategies for interpreting the world.... By staking out a middle ground between Elizalde and the skeptics, Hemley enlarges Invented Eden, turning it into a book not just about one tribe but about the way we consider tribal culture as a whole." — David Ulin, Chicago Tribune

"Robin Hemley's book is a brave and wholly convincing attempt to find the truth concerning the 'anthropological fraud of the century'." — James Hamilton-Paterson, London Review of Books

Turning Life Into Fiction[edit]

"Turning Life into Fiction is simply the best guide to writing fiction I have read." — Altar Magazine

"An enlightening and even inspiring guide to utilizing elements of one's own life and of one's family history as fodder for writing novels and short stories." — Booklist

"If you write fiction, listen up, look around, and take note. Why strain your brain making things up when you can transform real life into stories worth telling? Hemley recommends keeping a journal ('It's akin to an artist's sketchbook'), writing down your dreams (the unconscious is a great source of free material), and mining all those crazy stories your grandmother used to tell. Then combine bits and pieces from these sources, take one great mind leap (and many drafts) and—voila—you've got fiction." — Amazon.com

Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness[edit]

"Exceptional ... Hemley's book sits square in the center of the new and most successful nonfiction, exemplifying the trend of stretching the form. Nola is not just a life-and-death narrative of the author's brilliant and disturbed sister, but it's also a complex narrative of Hemley himself .... Couple the inventive format with a writing style that is deeply reflective, utterly honest, and sensitive of the issues of writing nonfiction in this way, and you have a colossal memoir. Hemley involves himself not just in telling a life story, but creating meaning by revealing how he thinks—exploring not one, but several voices that relate this narrative. In this, Hemley is a master .... This unconventional pattern of revelation will fascinate avid nonfiction readers, unless you're looking for mainstream confessional memoir, in which case, head for something lighter and less sophisticated than Nola." — Anne-Marie Oomen, ForeWord Magazine

"Hemley, author of Turning Life into Fiction (1994), has not been able to write about his sister Nola until now, 25 years after her death. A young woman obsessed with the magical and the 'hidden,' she became overwhelmed by voices and visions. Diagnosed as schizophrenic, she soon succumbed to an inexplicable overdose of prescribed medication. It's easy to see why her story demands to be told, but everyone in Hemley's family is fascinating, and he ponders his complex legacy in a mesmerizing juggling act, combining the drama of fiction with the candor of memoir and the close scrutiny of criticism. His mother, Elaine Gottlieb Hemley, [was] a fiction writer, and his father, Cecil Hemley, was a poet, Isaac Singer's editor, and cofounder of Noonday Press. Nola wrote, too, and Hemley incorporates each of their voices into the tight weave of his intricate narrative, choosing wisely to abide by what could be the family motto—'Everything is open to interpretation and revision'—and allowing his readers to draw their own conclusions." — Donna Seaman, Booklist

"Hemley takes the memoir form further than mere recollection of familial events, and delves into the arena of imagination and what if. His mission to tell Nola's story is complicated by the fickleness of family members' memories, the mystic nature of much of Nola's work, and his own admission that he covets her strange and wonderful story himself. The result is a surprising and honest process of both writing and discovery--finding the "facts" and revealing the truths about the way we remember and what we try to forget. This is not a book to rush through, but one to savor and think about for a good long time." — Susan Swartwout, Amazon.com Review

The Big Ear (Stories)[edit]

"Clever, confident and, at times, even poignant...this collection abounds with intriguing situations skillfully rendered." — Publishers Weekly

"This collection of 16 stories by Robin Hemley has something for everyone.... In these stories in Hemley's third collection, someone is always trying to make sense of something. And the answer is never easy." — The Chicago Tribune

"Hemley's characters are very real people, trying to make sense of themselves in a world often indifferent to them. If readability, to some, is a cardinal sin in writing, then Hemley is guilty. And may his sentence be to continue to write with such empathy, wit, intelligence, and compassion." — Matthew F. Benedict, South Bend Tribune

The Last Studebaker[edit]

"Hemley's weaving of these lost souls' stories into the Studebaker's failure to capture the American heart and pocketbook could collapse into a clever trick. Yet The Last Studebaker is never gimmicky, and offers hope beyond economic and personal despair. It's not only the Studebaker, but life itself, that evokes rueful glances and missed opportunities, along with tenderness and unpredictable charm." — Rachel Shteir, Washington Post Book World

"In South Bend, Ind., two down-on-their-luck characters, a divorced woman and an addled accident victim, team up to change their fates. Mr. Hemley cleverly uses the now-defunct Studebaker car company... to probe the apparent failure of the American dream." — Cathy A. Colman, The New York Times Book Review

"Hemley draws a quirky road map of the human heart, with all its foibles and dangers." — Publishers Weekly

All You Can Eat[edit]

"Hemley's stories are filled with... powerful and surrealistic images, some of them frightening, some of them funny." — Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times

"In variously troubled waters, the people in Robin Hemley’s short stories cling to their sense of humor." — People Magazine

"There is so much promise in this first book from a writer of clear ambition. Hemley is an urban writer of spark and vigour." — Times Literary Supplement

"The best stories in Robin Hemley's collection have a Holden Caulfield sense of how it is to be young and misunderstood in the world... Alarmingly adept." — Sunday Times

Also by Robin Hemley[edit]

Extreme Fiction: Fabulists and Formalists (co-edited with Michael Martone)

The Mouse Town, Winner of the Word Beat Press Fiction Award (for a chapbook), Judged by Joy Williams

Bibliography[edit]

Fiction[edit]

  • Hemley, Robin (1987). The mouse town and other stories. Flagstaff, AZ: Word Beat Press. 
  • All You Can Eat, stories (1988)
  • The Last Studebaker, a novel (1992)
  • The Big Ear, stories (1994)

Short stories[edit]

Title Year First published Reprinted/collected
All good things are surprises 2007 Hemley, Robin (Winter 2007). "All good things are surprises". Narrative. 

Poems[edit]

Title Year First published Reprinted/collected
My father's bawdy song 1993 Hemley, Robin (Fall 1993). "My father's bawdy song". Ploughshares. 61. 

Non-fiction[edit]

  • Hemley, Robin (1998). Nola : a memoir of faith, art, and madness. St Paul: Graywolf Press. 
  • Invented Eden: The Elusive, Disputed History of the Tasaday (2003)
  • Extreme Fiction: Fabulists and Formalists (anthology, with Michael Martone, 2004)
  • Turning Life Into Fiction (2006)
  • DO-OVER! In which a forty-eight-year-old father of three returns to kindergarten, summer camp, the prom, and other embarrassments (2009)
  • — (2013) [1998]. Nola : a memoir of faith, art, and madness. Reprint. Iowa City: U Iowa Press. 

Essays and reporting[edit]

Interviews[edit]

Readings[edit]

External links[edit]