February 18, 1936 - July 11, 2009
Paul Hemphill was born and grew up in Birmingham, Ala. He wanted to become a professional baseball player after high school but wasn't signed by the team for which he tried out. He enrolled at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) and soon discovered that he had a talent for writing, becoming the sports editor of the school newspaper. In 1958, Hemphill had a summer internship in the sports department of The Atlanta Constitution and was hired as a sportswriter for The Birmingham News. He graduated from API with a BA in 1959. Two years later, Hemphill had just accepted a public relations job at Florida State University when he was called to active duty in the Alabama Air National Guard. He was assigned to an air base in France where he began reading books during his free time. He returned to his job at FSU in 1962. The following year, Hemphill reentered journalism, working for The Augusta Chronicle, The Tampa Times, The Atlanta Times, and The Atlanta Journal.
In 1968, Hemphill won a Neiman fellowship for journalists and spent a year at Harvard University where he began writing a book on country music. In the fall of 1969, he resigned from The Atlanta Journal to complete this book, The Nashville Sound, which was published in 1970. Hemphill began writing for magazines on a freelance basis and moved to St. Simon’s Island, Ga., to live and write. When his marriage ended in divorce, he moved to Tallahassee, Fla., where he taught at Florida A & M University. In the spring of 1976, Hemphill moved briefly to San Francisco to write for The San Francisco Examiner but returned to Atlanta the following year. A baseball novel he had begun in San Francisco, Long Gone, was published in 1979 and made into an HBO cable movie in 1987. Hemphill based his memoir, Leaving Birmingham, published in 1993, on an essay about his father which had appeared in The New York Times Magazine. He has published several collections of his newspaper columns, as well as novels and nonfiction books. Hemphill lives and writes in Atlanta.
Paul Hemphill’s novels are set in the South and feature working-class characters. His nonfiction books also have Southern subjects.
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Photo by James A. Coker; courtesy of Paul Hemphill.
Last updated on Jul 17, 2009.