Fiction provides the possibility for radical empathy by connecting us with strangers and Radical Empathy in Multicultural Women’s Fiction: From the Library to Liberation both analyzes and embodies this phenomenon by putting women novelists of color in conversation with one another. Foregrounding the growing importance of intersectionality studies, this book considers how race, gender, and class interact for each author. In our increasingly fragmented national dialogue, this approach is unique and timely, demonstrating how novels can transform how we understand ourselves and act towards others.
Each chapter compares a contemporary female author to an earlier, canonical author of her ethnic background, depicting the dialogues that authors have across the decades. Each conversation focuses on an intersectional question: How has culturally-enforced silence impacted Asian women writers? How can the American road trip narrative provide Black men access to their pasts? How do poverty and gentrification impact Chicana coming-of-age stories? Finally, the book facilitates a dialogue across ethnic categories, considering what commonalities all women writers of color share in the contemporary United States, and how their conversations can reach and impact readers to take the crucial step from empathy to action in their own communities.
Lara Narcisi is professor of English and associate director of honors at Regis University in Denver, Colorado.
A Personal Preface
Chapter One: The Case for Radical Empathy in Fiction
Chapter Two: “Not merely unspoken, but unspeakable”: The Silences of Celeste Ng and Maxine Hong Kingston
Chapter Three: Journeys Within: Black Men on the Road in Song of Solomon and Sing,
Chapter Four: Trees in Concrete: Shifting Classes and Changing Neighborhoods in Sandra Cisneros and Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Chapter Five: Literary Remix
Appendix: Multicultural Book Club
About the Author
Narcisi’s engaging study places novels by women of color into conversation with one another and with the larger traditions that surround them to establish a reading method that promotes the idea of “radical empathy” as a basis for cultural exchange. Through perceptive analyses of texts by Celeste Ng, Maxine Hong Kingston, Toni Morrison, Jesmyn Ward, Sandra Cisneros, and Kali Fajardo-Anstine, Narcisi presents the idea of literary influence as a relation not only between author and author, but also author and reader. This book will appeal to all readers who care about U.S. multiculturalism and the powerful fiction it has produced.
What do we gain from reading intertextually--“across and between” novels, as Narcisi writes—from seeing works of literature as part of a rich, meaningful conversation? Wide-ranging, accessible, provocative, and unabashedly feminocentric, Radical Empathy makes a strong argument for the importance of resisting a “single story,” for an American canon that is always and truly multiethnic, and ultimately, for the power of fiction to change hearts and minds.
A love letter to literature, Radical Empathy in Multicultural Women’s Fiction draws together cross-generational readings of multicultural women’s writing with theoretical insights from Crenshaw, Kristeva, and Adichie to renew our hope in the radical potential of literature and literary criticism. Narcisi not only mines these texts for the literary influences that forged them but demonstrate their potential to speak to future readers, authors, and activists. By renewing our hope in literature’s ability to help us engage empathically with social justice issues both within and beyond our own limited subject positions, Radical Empathy makes a strong case for the necessity of the humanities in the twenty-first century.