Most people remember Atticus Finch as the heroic lawyer defending an unjustly charged African-American man in "To Kill a Mockingbird." So when a long-lost draft of this beloved novel was recently published, readers were shocked when Atticus expressed sympathy for white supremacists—a change that made for front page news.
This spectacle—a print book’s hero causing national distress in the digital age—invites us to consider the work fiction plays in shaping our emotional connections to painful parts of American life, particularly when that pain has racial roots. Michelle Liu invites us to think about how fiction, beyond its heroes, can help us build more empathy and openness to those with experiences different from our own. Funded by Humanities Washington and the Friends of the Langley Library.
*Contains mature themes.
Michelle Liu is a professor in the English department at the University of Washington, where she specializes in teaching writing and exploring ideas about identity, history, emotion, and storytelling. Liu also has spoken at the University of Washington Zhejiang Summer Program to undergraduate-age Chinese students to introduce them to racial dynamics in the Seattle area. Liu earned her PhD in American studies from Yale University.