Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Book: The Collected Stories

by Amy Hempel (2006).

I feel privileged to be someone who can say, I've been a fan of Amy Hempel since way back.

By "way back," I of course do not mean way back in 1985 when she published her first book. I mean way back in 2001, when I was a senior in high school taking a short fiction class I'll never forget. We read "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried." I didn't even know who Al Jolson was. It didn't matter. Amy Hempel made that class memorable.

Reading her, for the first time I had one of those moments, in which I fancied that I had suddenly and completely learned everything I needed to know about writing short fiction. And, because I love to brag, I'm going to say that it kind of worked: the Hempel-ish story I wrote for class was the piece I chose to workshop at our annual writers' festival, when Amy Hempel turned us down and the head of our department secured Bobbie Louise Hawkins instead. She loved my story. She demanded I go to Naropa, where she taught, after graduation. Months later she saw my teacher out in Colorado and mentioned me. "I hope she's doing something meaningful with her life," is what she said.

Well, I am and I'm not. I'm not writing fiction anymore. I'm still reading Hempel, though, and loving every moment of it.

Some favorites in this book: "Tumble Home," which felt like another revelation when I read it the first time, way back when; "Jesus is Waiting;" "Offertory."


Chuck Palahniuk has a great essay on what makes Hempel's writing so damn good.

Wired For Books has audio of Hempel reading two stories at Ohio University.

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