John C Hampsey

Kaufman’s Hill is among the most touching, sensitive, and spellbinding memoirs I’ve encountered in many years. Beautifully and exactly written, this book will surely reach into the hearts of its readers. I was deeply moved.”

―Tim O’Brien, Author, The Things They Carried


“The best book written on American boyhood in decades.”

―Historian Howard Zinn, Author, A People’s History of the United States


Kaufman’s Hill is a vivid and unforgettable coming-of-age tale of boys and bullies on the edge of post-industrial America. Hampsey’s haunting, lyrical world thrums with the dark, erratic rhythms that lie below the surface of our seemingly ordinary childhoods. He makes me remember mine differently, somehow.”

―Ruth Ozeki, Author, A Tale for the Time Being


“Hampsey has written a gem of a memoir. As powerful, poignant, funny and deeply moving as anything I’ve read since Russell Baker’s masterpiece, Growing Up. Someone should make a movie of this.”

―Mark Mathabane, Author, Kaffir Boy


“This is what an American childhood used to be like before it was organized out of existence: an anarchic voyage into the unknown realms of human possibility–by turns uncanny, violent, ridiculous, and radiant. It’s a wonderful accomplishment.”

―Robert Inchausti, Author, The Ignorant Perfection of Ordinary People,
Spitwad Sutras, and Thomas Merton’s American Prophecy


“A wonderful, sensitive, and compelling read, with a sensibility in both content and style that is simply breath-taking.”

―Cathie Brettschneider, Humanities Editor, University of Virginia Press


Kaufman’s Hill captures the dynamics of the lost world of boyhood with sensitivity but without sentimentality, in a way no book has before.”

―Kevin Clark, Author, Self-Portrait with Expletives


“Touches on something about boyhood within the expansiveness of life that I can’t remember anyone doing, especially with this voice and perspective.”

―Al Landwehr, Writer of Short Fiction and Professor Emeritus of Creative Writing, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo


“In this unusual yet wonderful memoir, which is, in effect, a collection of short stories that tell a single narrative ― kind of like Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast ― John Hampsey has taken his early life and turned it into art.”

―Bill Kenower, Editor in Chief, Author Magazine


“Hampsey finds just the right voice in this iconic memoir, where brilliant episodes of boyhood are superbly captured. The ‘coming of age’ eyes and perspective of youth which he so accurately portrays reminds me of what Harper Lee did with To Kill a Mockingbird. (Author also gave a magnificent reading at my bookstore.)”

―Dennis Wills, Owner, D.G. Wills Books, La Jolla, California


“John C. Hampsey’s boyhood memoir, Kaufman’s Hill, stands out as a personal reflection that reads like a good novel. The story is set in the mid-sixties during that marked transition in urban landscapes and in race and culture. John’s voice is unique and compelling.”

―Suzanne Lang, Host, “Lit Radio,” KOWS-FM (Occidental, California) and
KRCB-FM (North San Francisco Bay, California)


“Kaufman’s Hill is the sort of book that Richard Linklater and Terence
Malick would drool over, but that P.T. Anderson would actually get to

―McNally Jackson Bookstore, New York, NY


“John Hampsey transports us back to his childhood in Pittsburgh during the early to mid-1960s. Chronicling his own personal experiences of a bygone era, Kaufman’s Hill is a heartfelt, insightful, and entertaining book that enables any person of any generation to get into the mindset and world of 1960s America and what that meant to a young child. For me personally, it’s interesting to read about what would be my parents’ generation and the many ways in which their upbringings were both similar and completely alien to my own. Kaufman’s Hill is a must-read for anyone who enjoys memoir or just a plain good story. I promise, you’ll enjoy it.”

―Mark Noce, Novelist, Between Two Fires (Thomas Dunne Books)


“John Hampsey explores the landscape of his boyhood past in a poetic memoir written with a pitch-perfect voice of himself as a boy–not an easy thing to do. He evokes his Pittsburgh neighborhood of the 1960s, including for us a detailed map of his boyhood world so that we can try to see the parameters as he saw them. It is a world of physical freedom, but with exact limits, nonetheless, of boundaries that keep expanding as the boy ages. Concurrently, there are strict limits set on his behavior with adults: his father, his aunts, his mother, nuns, priests. Then there are the highly fraught, often terrifying behavior challenges posed by his peers: the marauding Creeley boys, crazy Taddy Keegan, and others. One result is that the narrator, the careful, watchful child, anticipates guilt before he does anything wrong. His anxiety is a major element of the book. The book’s major actions often take place at twilight, the time the boy’s father thought was the finest time of day. It is also the time when children can play before or after dinner while it is still light. However, Hampsey writes that ‘the games really do finish in the dark,’ which anticipates the end, when the boy steps out of his boyhood, away from the Creeleys and Taddy Keegan, and into the risk-taking and independence of adulthood one night at the Dew Drop Inn.”

― Kate Buford, Biographer


“Annie Dillard’s 1987 memoir, An American Childhood, chronicles her upbringing in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. While the stories Dillard tells are unique to her life, her description of a bucolic, middle-class upbringing has resonated with readers for more than 25 years. Now, California Polytechnic State University literature professor and Pittsburgh native John Hampsey shares his own reflections on growing up in the Pennsylvania city in his new memoir, Kaufman’s Hill. From being bullied by a gang of tough neighbors to racial animosity and testing the limits of childhood independence, Hampsey distills vivid moments into lyrical passages on the page. With maturity comes change, both to Hampsey’s life and the world in which he lives. Suddenly, his actions don’t seem as carefree as they once did. From his memoir, expect poignant anecdotes about the joys and struggles of coming of age.”

Washington City Paper Arts & Entertainment Pick

“John Hampsey’s memoir, Kaufman’s Hill, set in Pittsburgh between 1961-1968, begins when the narrator is seven years old and follows him through a childhood that negotiates the power relationships and hierarchies among boys roaming freely in a world where adults occupy their given roles in the family homes, schools, and churches, but not in the free ranges of the neighborhood. It is the age before childhoods were managed and hovered over, and children learned social survival and passed through the initiations of adolescence as agents of their of their own change and growth. It is, in addition, a period of social foment beyond the narrator’s home radius, so that his own push out into the world is concurrent with America’s reinvention of itself.”

― Suzanne Matson, Chair, English Dept, Boston College


“Unlike many memoirs, Kaufman’s Hill, John Hampsey’s remembrance of his boyhood in a middle-class Catholic Pittsburgh neighborhood, is not born out of an intense personal experience or extreme personal adventure. Instead,
Hampsey’s hypnotic, precisely paced, prosaic memoir tells the story of a particular place during a particular period of time through the eyes of his boyhood self . . . Kaufman’s Hill is a tale full of mythical aspects of creeks and rivers and a scrap of the hill that is at the center of everything. Its narrator is an observer of things that go on around him and outside of him, and captures a part of the early years of 1960s, a period that bridged the muted 1950s and the turbulent 1960s. For the narrator, it was a time when the outside world had not yet entered his life. It was a time when bullies roamed free of consequence or even judgment, and everyone’s mother got mooned . . . Hampsey starts writing by making handwritten notes full of minimalistic bulleted scrappy notes. He then sits down and just lets it go, ‘almost like my eyes are closed.’ Then he’s happy, he’s relieved, because once he’s got those ideas on the screen, he can revise and revise and revise. He says that he won’t move on until ‘something sparkles on each page.’ And sparkle they do.”

―Huffington Post


“Suffering the guilt of killing a bird with a slingshot, examining a dead animal, traversing a dark tunnel without knowing where it leads, leaping before you look, being bullied, pulling pranks, and fending off peer pressure to do what you know is right-these are the trials and travails of boyhood, that mysterious period when every day feels like a test and you have to make a tough choice: Do you do the easy thing, the selfish thing, or the right thing? These early childhood choices can haunt you into adulthood, and in John C. Hampsey’s memoir of boyhood, Kaufman’s Hill, they do indeed haunt. Hampsey has managed to capture these seminal moments in a series of beautifully crafted vignettes of his youth in Pittsburgh that begin in 1961 when he’s 7 and conclude at age 14 in 1968-the precipice of the counter-culture revolution. It’s a moving portrait of a boy figuring out what kind of man he’ll be, dealing with challenging peers, an emotionally absent father, and a culture at a pivotal point in its history . . . One thing that comes through is Hampsey’s childhood decency-his sense of guilt when he does something he shouldn’t, his resistance to being dragged into things he doesn’t morally agree with. You can’t help but like this kid; root for him to do the right thing or to connect with his emotionally distant father; empathize as he tries to understand why a group of black boys are
throwing rocks at him or as he’s holding back the tears when he’s being picked on; nod in approval as he discovers that the brave Huck Finn-esque boy he looked up to is really an insecure masochist. Boyhood is a minefield, and Hampsey’s Kaufman’s Hill depicts one boy’s path through it.”

― San Luis Obispo New Times, the Arts Magazine for California’s Central Coast


“When one thinks of child narrators in literature, Scout in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird comes to mind. John C. Hampsey has created a coming-of-age memoir, Kaufman’s Hill, told through the eyes and sensibilities of the young John, and in it creates a character as compelling and unforgettable.”

― Suzanne Lang, Host, “Lit Radio,” KOWS-FM (Occidental, CA) and KRCB-FM (North San Francisco Bay, CA)


“A sad but beautiful book that stops time in its place, Kaufman’s Hill is resonating with people all over the country. It certainly struck a chord with me. It’s a deeply beautiful story that makes for a wonderful summer read.”

― Beth Ruyak, host of Capital Public Radio’s “Insight,” NPR affiliate KXJZ-FM, Sacramento, CA