Robinson in NYT Op-Ed: “Be Ready for Radical Empathy” When Drawing on Others’ Stories

In a recent op-ed piece for the New York Times, Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson ventured an answer to one of the thorniest questions faced by writers of fiction. “Who owns the story,” she asks, “the person who lives it or the person who writes it?”

Since authors must draw on the stories of others, they are open to charges of exploitation. Robinson recalls once hearing a critic say, of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that Stowe had no right to write about the black experience. Drawing on her own experience writing about a young male Marine in the novel Sparta, Robinson reaches a different conclusion, arguing that “it’s empathy”—not exploitation—“that allows a writer to feel her way into someone else’s experience.”

“A writer is like a tuning fork: We respond when we’re struck by something. The thing is to pay attention, to be ready for radical empathy. If we empty ourselves of ourselves we’ll be able to vibrate in synchrony with something deep and powerful.”

See the entire opinion piece here.

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