Professional empathy: writing and anthropology

author and anthropologist

The incomparable Zora Neale Hurston

Earlier this week, Google celebrated the 125th birthday of Zora Neale Hurston. Best known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching G-d (which has one of the most suspenseful and gut-wrenching scenes I’ve ever read), Hurston was also an trained anthropologist. Much of her non-fiction work consists of the retold folktales she uncovered during interviews in the deep south during the Great Depression.

Anthropologists as writers

This got me thinking about the whole issue of writers with training in anthropology. While I never actually “practiced anthropology” professionally, I have a Master’s in Applied Anthropology and feel that the reading, classwork, and fieldwork I did during my training has had a deep and lasting influence on my writing (and teaching and pretty much everything else I do, by the way).

Hurston and I are in good company. Continue reading

In case you need to feel validated for writing literary fiction, science will back you up

I’m not usually the type to post an hour before Shabbos starts, but this news item (first heard this morning during the break between some Mozart and some Corelli on KUSC) is just too wonderful to wait.

In case you feel defensive because you still think high-quality literature belongs in schools, or you’re trying to encourage quality over quantity in your own writing (thus spending way more time on each piece than seems wise), a new study indicates that reading literary fiction (Jane Austen, Don DiLillo, Chekov, or Alice Munro) temporarily enhances a reader’s emotional intelligence.

For more, read the study’s abstract here¬†and a New York Times piece about it here.