Hanging Out with Sheila Liming: Discussing the Author’s Newest Book


Sheila Liming and “Hanging Out.”

When looking at the college experience, evenings in a common room surrounded by friends just passing time are often overlooked moments. Professor Sheila Liming claims these moments may even be happening less altogether. 

Liming, an associate Professional Writing professor at Champlain, released Hanging Out in January. In what she describes as a genre cross memoir and manifesto, Liming makes a case for unstructured social time, tracks its decline, and shares her personal experiences with the concept. 

The idea of Hanging Out has been on Liming’s mind for about five years. She noticed that the internet and mobile technology were making modern life more scheduled and less social. To Liming, “hanging out” refers to casual interactions, something she thinks is disappearing.

“You have to make a reservation just to talk to someone on the phone,” she said. 

Philosopher Fred Moten was a significant source of inspiration for her, and he is referenced frequently throughout the book. Moten’s book, The Undercommons, speaks about the black radical tradition in aesthetic terms, as well as jazz theory, comparing hanging out in a jazz session to being in a classroom. As a teacher and musician herself, this struck a chord with Liming. This is especially true for Chapter 2: Jamming, where she discusses her Celtic music band that “broke up once a year, every year, on March 18th.” 

While writing the book, Liming also looked to her students at Champlain for inspiration, talking about them in various chapters. Like many of her students, she came to Champlain during the pandemic, moving cross country to teach online. And even though things have started opening back up, she believes that we have not totally abandoned the habits we developed during that dark and difficult time. Because of this belief, Liming held discussions with her colleagues and students, particularly the creative nonfiction class she was teaching as she finished the book. 

“We had some really good conversations about things like, what does hanging out look like for you guys? How do you do it? How do you feel about it? What are the situations that you fear or dread or that produce anxiety versus those that you really, like, desire and covet and want to make happen?” Liming recalled. These discussions were especially helpful as she formed the chapter called “Hanging Out on the Internet.” 

Liming said that writing the book has impacted how she spends time with people because she often discusses hanging out while she’s doing it.

 “As I was writing the book, I would get together with a friend for lunch or we would go on a hike or we’d go on a walk and I’d start talking about the concept, and then they had thoughts about the concept, and then it became this, like, ongoing meta discussion about what was happening,” she said. 

She mentions these hangout sessions in the acknowledgments, crediting her friends for their feedback. 

Hanging Out has been both praised and criticized for the way it mixed genres. When asked how she processes these criticisms, Liming says she doesn’t let them worry her, because they wouldn’t have been mentioned if the book was fiction. 

“I think people have an idea about the categories nonfiction should be in,” she said. “People will criticize if it leans too heavily into a genre and they criticize if it doesn’t fit into one genre.” 

Because of these discussions, Hanging Out has reached outside its original expected demographic. Liming explained that it’s a book for people who like memoirs, persuasion, and discourse; a book for people who like reading; and a book for people who like hanging out.