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CanLit authors let loose in discussion on empathy

When novelist Catherine Bush got to thinking about the role of empathy in the creative process, she found the idea so compelling that she queried a number of other Canadian authors. The resulting discussion – a “roundtable” that took place over e-mail – is recorded in the fall edition of Bookninja Magazine, and collects the wide-ranging musings of Bush, Peter Behrens, Barbara Gowdy, Sheila Heti, and Lisa Moore.

Part of the article’s strength is its open-ended format, which seems to encourage surprisingly intimate confessions from the authors regarding their creative process, sources of inspiration, and, occasionally, personal life. That said, the discussion is at times unfocussed and, clocking in at nearly 10,000 words, perhaps unnecessarily long: “empathy” is a diaphanous concept, and it’s discussed here in terms of writing, reading, moral character, as well as romantic and conjugal love.

For fans of CanLit, however, it’s worth mining the article for the intimate details that emerge. Lisa Moore, for example, discusses several works-in-progress. Barbara Gowdy sets the record straight about her purported exhibitionism (“I never cavort and I’m rarely naked”) and her admiration of Montaigne (“Go, Montaigne!”). And for her part, Sheila Heti describes an aborted project “in which a supermarket was the main character.”