Robin Hemley

Robin Hemley

Fellow: Awarded 2008
Field of Study: General Nonfiction

Competition: US & Canada

University of Iowa

Robin Hemley comes from a literary family. His father, Cecil Hemley, was the founder of the Noonday Press and was the longtime editor and translator of Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, as well as a poet and novelist himself. His mother, Elaine Gottlieb Hemley, was a short story writer and also a Singer translator. When Robin was five, his family moved from New York City to Athens, Ohio, where his father was the first director of the Ohio University Press. After the death of Robin’s father, Robin’s mother moved the family to Pennsylvania, Missouri, and finally, to South Bend, Indiana, where she was a professor of creative writing at Indiana University-South Bend. Robin attended St. Andrews School in Sewanee, Tennessee, in high school and also Momoyama Gakuin in Osaka, Japan, and later attended Indiana University where he majored in East Asian Languages and Cultures and Anthropology, before finally settling on Comparative Literature. After college, he went to the Iowa Writers Workshop where he graduated in Fiction Writing. He then lived for five months in a farm house in Cuddebackville, New York with the writers David Shields and Kate Sontag – where he was supposed to be writing but mostly just worried about the future. He moved to Chicago in the early 80’s, landing his first job as an editorial assistant at Playboy magazine, where he worked for a year and a half before receiving an Illinois Arts Council grant that allowed him to quit his full-time job and work as a freelancer and adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After blowing an interview to be the assistant fiction editor at Esquire, he was accepted as a Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, where he completed his first book of short stories, All You Can Eat, which was accepted first by the famous/infamous editor Gordon Lish at Knopf (and then rejected by the same editor a week later) before it found a good home at Atlantic Monthly Press. Among his academic appointments, he has taught at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Western Washington University, St. Lawrence University, the University of Utah, and the University of Iowa, where he has served as Director of the Nonfiction Writing Program. He has four daughters from two marriages and he has a running motor that keeps him in perpetual motion. Some days he can’t figure out how he sat still long enough to write eight books.

Among his favorite books as a child were the Greek myths, the Oz series, the Narnia books, Sci-Fi and speculative fiction, comic books, Kafka, Borges, Isaac Babel, Ray Bradbury, Ursula Leguin, and the wonderful Richard Hughes classic, A High Wind in Jamaica. His tastes have broadened only slightly since then – he deeply regrets selling his comic book collection when he was nineteen and so can’t bring himself to pick up a comic book, but he does read the occasional graphic novel, such as Allison Bechdel’s Fun Home.


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