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Robin Hemley

Author of Turning Life into Fiction

18+ Works 577 Members 26 Reviews 1 Favorited

About the Author

Robin Hemley is director of the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa

Works by Robin Hemley

Associated Works


Common Knowledge

Hemley, Cecil (father)
Gottlieb, Elaine (mother)
Short biography
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. 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, TN in high school and also Momoyama Gakuin in Osaka (as detailed in Do-Over!), 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 inperpetual 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, he loved reading 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.

Visit his website at www.robinhemley.com



Outstanding Writing

"Invented Eden" is a very well-written book. Because it was so enjoyable, it was also a very quick read. There are a few things, however, that give me pause. In the book, Hemley tries to get to the bottom of the Tasaday story: was their "discovery" as a primitive, secluded people with no contact to the outside world.

Hemley's conclusion is very wishy-washy, although it is completely realistic and understandable. The conclusion is that the Tasaday were probably in contact with their neighboring tribes although not with the larger Philippine and academic societies, despite evidence of their existence showing up on a military map from the 1950s. This rings true. It is the middle ground between "the Tasaday made their first contact with the outside in 1971" and "the Tasaday were a fabrication."

The last chapter is something of a "hit job" on the proponents of the hoax theory. Hemley quickly rattles off reasons why the proponents of the hoax theory should not be believed despite spending the entirety of the book discussing their qualifications, theories, and ideas. In this section, Hemley even throws out the idea that one of the hoax proponents should not be believed because he was a known member of a Philippine communist party. It seemed rather absurd to bring this up in passing at the end of the book after spending chapters devoted to the man.

The author also dropped in something of a dead-end teaser. He helped coordinate conclusive DNA testing between various peoples in the area, sent the results to Hawaii. This kept my attention because Hemley claimed it would answer the hoax question. In the last chapter, we learn that the DNA testing was irrelevant because the sample size was too small.

The book has a great index and good end notes. I hope that a future version will have a "list of players" because the number of people who came in and out of the narrative was enormous. I had some trouble remembering who was who. Of course, with a story this big that received so much attention, there would naturally be a lot of names involved.

Hemley has several witty comments throughout the book that make him an authentic narrator. His writing is fluid and enjoyable. I will definitely look for another one of his books.
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mvblair | Aug 9, 2020 |
Robin Hemley’s erudite essay collection Borderline Citizen probes the meaning of nationality.

Profiling enclaves and exclaves, overseas territories, and displaced people, the essays reveal the human and environmental costs of fighting for something which cannot be truly owned or defined. These explorations are global, stopping in China, the Philippines, Ecuador, and Point Roberts in Washington and illuminating history, culture, and peculiarities of national celebrations in limbo. They profile refugees in Australia, Cuba, and in resettlement camps along the India-Bangladesh border and consider war survivors and their dead, knowing that war and strife continually redefine nationhood, as do land swaps, economics, and migration.

Hemley is confronted with the flippant question of whether he’s a patriot, which he ponders in light of Snowden’s defection and refugee crises. He notes the arbitrary nature of boundaries and governments: territory changes hands, Hong Kong is given over, and Russian immigrants inhabit the renamed Kaliningrad. He also observes apathetic national celebrations filled with cotton candy and ice cream that are little more than tourist events and wryly witnesses “authentic” dances and costumes that have lost their meaning in the presence of transnational corporate homogeneity. Such incongruous details infuse a playful humor into serious situations.

Teasing wordplays and irony come in: a “man who is three Union Jacks to the wind” argues his Britishness in the isolated Falklands, considered worthless until injured national pride provoked a territorial war. Another essay pokes fun at jurisdictional challenges resulting from feudal land-swaps along the Belgian-Netherlands border. As a whole, the collection acknowledges human beings’ yearning to be part of a collective, but also illuminates the unforeseen, tragic, and sometimes hilarious consequences of belonging.

“Are we not all citizens of the world?” asks Borderline Citizen, a thought-provoking work that troubles the complexities of nationhood.

Reviewed by Wendy Hinman, Foreword Reviews
March / April 2020

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WendyHinman | 1 other review | Aug 8, 2020 |
In Borderline Citizen Robin Hemley, a Jewish American with a Philippino wife takes his readers to the borderlines, enclaves, and odd places on this world. Modern nationhood sprang up in the late 1900's, the border between India and Pakistan being drawn in just four weeks, and places like Baarle-Hertog and Baarle-Nassau here in the Netherlands and neighbouring Belgium only exist thanks to a historical treaty between two landlords.

What's American or Canadian at Point Roberts, a pene-exclave near Vancouver? Would you rather be buried in a graveyard with Well-Known People, or rest under a nameless plate? And did you realize that many former Nazi era ministries and offices nowadays are....ministries and offices of the German government? Learn about the a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea, Kaliningrad, formerly known as Königsberg. Hemley celebrates Guy Fawkes Day in the contested Falkland Islands. These few people are even more Brits than those in the northern hemisphere;. Handover Day among protesters in Hong Kong gives insights in the Chinese with a flavour of British and newfound self-confidence, and India Day along the most complicated border in the world teaches how fragile man-made distinctions are.

Borderline Citizen is part travelogue, part memoir, part reportage, part history with an appeal to belonging to a nation, people, or group in general, wherever the location.
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hjvanderklis | 1 other review | Apr 11, 2020 |
I enjoyed this book, although it wasn't as humorous as I thought it would be. It is fun to see Hemley approach all these blasts from the past with his self-deprecating humor. I felt sorry that he had so many bad memories from his childhood and teen years, as I have almost nothing but happy memories of my youth. I would hate to be so haunted by my failures (I'm sure there were plenty but I just seem to have let them go...). My favorite chapter was the one in which he returns to Japan to "do-over" his school year abroad.

There is plenty to think about in this book and I'm glad Hemley is willing to let readers into his life for these adventures.
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glade1 | 20 other reviews | Apr 14, 2015 |


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