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It’s widely agreed that empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of another—is an essential faculty of a good writer as well as a good human being. But are there incongruencies in how we commonly define and imagine empathy—in how we practice it? Is it ever unhealthy, counterproductive, even dangerous? In this talk, we’ll discuss these questions as a way to demonstrate that empathy is indeed invaluable, but that its true value might lie beyond compassion and somewhere more unexpected and ambiguous within us. And as storytellers, we’ll explore how to exercise this messier, more demanding form of empathy to help us access our most inaccessible characters and bring them to life, whether they deserve it or not.
Vu Tran's first novel, Dragonfish, was a NY Times Notable Book and a San Francisco Chronicle Best Books of the Year. His writing has also appeared in the O. Henry Prize Stories, the Best American Mystery Stories, Ploughshares, and Virginia Quarterly. He is the winner of a Whiting Writers’ Award and an NEA Fellowship, and has been a fiction fellow at Bread Loaf, Sewanee, MacDowell, and Yaddo. Born in Vietnam and raised in Oklahoma, Vu received his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and his PhD from the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He teaches at the University of Chicago, where he is an Associate Professor of Practice in English & Creative Writing.
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