Episode 148: Empathy in Literature

On June 19, 2021, Rex was out of town so Kasie welcomed guest Dr. Len Lawson to the program for a conversation about empathy. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day(s)

Special Guest Len Lawson and Empathy in Literature


  • This summer’s work
  • Meet Dr. Len Lawson
  • What is empathy and how does literature connect to it?
  • How to 
Photo by Mariana Montrazi on Pexels.com

Link to podcast

Segment 1

So in June we’re going to be giving you some Independent Bookstore names, locations, and other fun details. This week we’d like to introduce you to Books on Broad in Camden, S.C. Bill and Laurie Funderburk operate this gem located at 944 Broad St, Camden, SC 29020. Get the details on their offerings and events on their website here.

This summer we’re working on serialization projects. You can review the show where we covered the benefits and opportunities of serialization here. My work is on Wattpad and it’s called The Full Moon in Neverland. It’s six full chapters in, a full 3 hour read (phew!) already and still a few chapters from the climax. I think it’ll end up being between 12 and 14 chapters. So a lot of work and I’m giving it away.  

Rex is working with Vella and has this epic cover for his vampire novel. I know, copycat (ha). So he’s going to go live after he gets six chapters loaded. Vella is a service of Amazon.

Today I’m welcoming into the studio *Dr. Len Lawson. We originally met in the Columbia II chapter of SCWA. We’re now serving together on the SCWA Board of Directors and collaborating to expand the reach and impact of the organization.

Get a full bio of Len Lawson here. Some highlights:

  • Winthrop University for undergrad 
  • Excellent teacher 
  • PhD underway (*earned since the episode aired, congrats, Dr. Lawson!)
  • Creative arts fellowships, workshops, and awards

We’ll get the full Len: My story in this segment.

Segment 2

So you’re serving on the SCWA Board of Directors and have been asked to lead a diversity initiative. A couple of episodes ago, Rex and I took on the challenge of white authors writing diverse characters. The issue has been construed as political. So I thought we could talk about a little of this:

What does it mean to pursue diversity?

Is this a political move? Why or why not?

How does diversity improve our writing community?

What are the benefits of a direct, honest conversation about representation?

Segment 3

Years ago I spent some time getting drunk with Richard Ford and he and I discussed in slurry words what it is about literature that makes us better people. He identified the phenomenon as “empathy.” So let’s unpack that.

What is empathy?

How does it feel to develop it?

How can literature help readers and writers alike develop empathy?

Should we want this? Should we pursue it?

Segment 4

My argument with Richard Ford was that “empathy” wasn’t a big enough word. It indicates visibility, sure, and compassion, of course, but it doesn’t indicate change. I think the bigger pursuit should be a willingness to be changed by the work you’re experiencing.

Years back, my friend and local poet John Starino invited me to an Open Mic at the Red Door on King Street and I heard the slam poetry effort of a transgender woman. Her story stunned me, broke me, and built me back into a different person.

I think art has the ability to change us and I think we should be willing to change. So let’s unpack that.

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