Amy Hempel had not yet finished unpacking, and had just overcome a lock issue that left her unable to get into her new home in Hampton Bays when we spoke. Though the move was proving to be chaotic—with furniture that had never arrived, disappearing somewhere between Florida and New York—she could still recognize the reason she was returning to the East End. “The people,” Hempel said when asked why she had decided to return and teach at Stony Brook Southampton after moving away from Bridgehampton many years ago. She is one of two new faculty members, along with poet Cornelius Eady, that Stony Brook hired to start for the Fall 2017 semester.
It’s not only the people, though, that Hempel says draws writers to the East End. A long history rich with writers and artists belongs to the area, and though some have wondered what keeps bringing creative types from around the world here, Hempel recognizes the constants: “The water, the air, the light.” Those things never change. Coming back to the Hamptons after spending many years away, Hempel can’t help but feel the area is “new, yet familiar.”
A wonderful edition to the Stony Brook Southampton faculty, Hempel has been a finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award, won the Ambassador Book Award, and the Rea Award for the Short Story, as well as having been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and Hobson Award. The transition from writer to teacher was an easy one for Hempel. After the success of her first book, the offers came pouring in and she decided to take one. Though she had never thought about it before, she found that she loved it. Hempel has taught at schools such as Harvard, Sarah Lawrence, NYU, Bennington and, most recently, the University of Florida. To better help her students in each of these diverse places, Hempel has opened herself up to more diverse literature. This is something that will be of use at Stony Brook Southampton, as it’s a unique creative writing program that does not require students to choose a specific discipline; they are able to study poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and screen writing.
As far as Hempel is concerned, she will be writing at home when she is not in the classroom helping to hone others’ crafts. In addition to writing, she is also involved in dog rescue efforts with the organization Morgan’s Place, and plans to continue her work fostering dogs. She was also the co-editor on the book Unleashed: Poems by Writer’s Dogs. She is grateful, therefore, to have found a home with a fenced in backyard. Speaking of home, Hempel says she spends time thinking of the topic, that it is a theme in her writing. “I am fascinated by the idea of it; we find it in dogs, in different people. And it changes. What we need in a home changes. The country right now, to a lot of people, does not feel like home, and that is something that I think about.”
For her students, and all other writers and artists out there, Hempel gives this advice: “Make some noise. Don’t be careful.”