Fiction / Memoirs

KATHLEEN HILL has lived most of her adult life in New York City. In her twenties she and her husband, Clifford Hill, taught in a secondary school close to Lagos, Nigeria, and then a few years later spent a year in Niger with their three young children. After receiving a doctorate in English literature, she resumed teaching and in her forties began writing short stories. She’s taught in France, China, India and Turkey as well as Nigeria. Now she teaches in the M.F.A. program at Sarah Lawrence College.

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Blank book template mockup for design uses in 3d rendering three floating books


After visiting her newly grown daughter in Niger, who had herself returned to Africa in the Peace Corps, Hill wrote Still Waters in Niger, a novel set in the Sahel in a time of famine. It is centered in the complicated bonds between mothers and daughters and the will to survive in a place where the children are starving. Published in 1999, it was named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Chicago Tribune, and was nominated for the Dublin IMPAC Award. The French translation, Eaux Tranquilles, was short-listed for the Prix Femina Étranger.

A witness to hunger in Niger, Hill was involuntarily returned to her own family history, to its roots in the Irish famine. In an attempt to engage ancestral memories and explore the ways they play out over generations, she wrote her second novel, Who Occupies This House, published in 2010 and selected an Editors’ Choice by the New York Times.

Hill’s most recent work is a memoir, She read to Us in the Late Afternoons: A Life in Novels. It was born out of Hill’s realization that her own strongest memories of a time and place were almost always illuminated by a novel she’d been reading at the time. The first chapter of the memoir, “Lucy Gayheart,” was originally published as “The Anointed” and reprinted in Best American Short Stories as well as Pushcart Prize XXV, and The Pushcart Book of Short Stories. “Portrait,” an earlier version of the second and third chapters of the memoir, first appeared in the Ploughshares Solo Series (2014), 27, and the Amazon Kindle edition was selected as One of the Best Singles of 2014.

A short essay, “Forgiveness,” published first in AGNI, was reprinted in The Best Spiritual Writing, 2013.

Hill’s essay on the Irish fiction writer, Maeve Brennan, appeared in Nine Irish Lives, edited by Mark Bailey, in March 2018.

Biggest literary influencers:
Willa Cather, Proust, Virginia Woolf

Last book read:
Wuthering Heights

Currently working on:
A story about the Bronte sisters, most especially Emily who was born 200 years ago, on July 30, 1818

Advice to new and aspiring authors: Write whenever you can but if there’s a gap return when you’re able to. Don’t be discouraged by anything at all: interruptions, how your work is received, certainly don’t be discouraged by someone else’s words about anything you write. Your work is your secret, even when you share it – It belongs to you, for a time, and then it doesn’t.


“Spellbinding…. Hill writes with great elegance, clarity, and soul.”

– The Paris Review

“In this multi-faceted gem of a book, Kathleen Hill, a great reader, pays tribute to the masterworks of literature which have inspired her, and uses her prodigious memory and her lucid prose style to celebrate love and compassion as the most noble and enduring of human qualities.”

—Colm Toibin, author of Brooklyn and House of Names

“In these gorgeous pages Kathleen Hill explores her own life, and the lives of family and friends, in the company of various novels. The result is a memoir filled with urgency as she struggles to read the world around her, to understand herself, and others, as deeply as Isabel Archer and Lucy Gayheart. This is a wonderful and profound book.”

 —Margot Livesey, author of Mercury: A Novel

“We’ve always believed that books were like a soundtrack to our lives and that our day-to-day lives stood in the foreground. But this stunning book tells a different and surprising tale: It is our lives that slip into the background, and books —those fabulous books that alter who we are—can become the real face of our lives.”

—Andre Aciman, author of Out of Egypt and Call Me By Your Name

“Here is a book that takes up beauty, longing, genius, and spirit—here is solitary thought, not looking to be answered, even by the thinker: an original book that leaves the reader less alone.”

—Jean Valentine, poet, author of Break the Glass

“What a delight this is! Hill captures precisely, beautifully, the tremor of a great book crossing our lives at just the right moment.”

—Andrea Barrett, author of Archangel and The Voyage of the Narwhal

“Eloquent and searching, Hill’s book explores the strange and wondrous resonances between the read and lived while celebrating reading itself as among the most profoundly transformative of human acts. A thought-provoking memoir about the significance of literature in life.”

—Kirkus Reviews