When authors are asked to give craft talks on creative writing, they tend to focus on the “writing” half of the equation.
Sherrie Flick wants to think about the other side.
“Sometimes becoming a better writer isn’t always about writing,” Flick said. “It’s about learning to think in a fresh new way.”
Flick will explore empathy and creativity with her Brown Bag lecture, “Contagious Empathy: Embracing Risk as an Everyday Practice,” at 12:15 p.m. Friday on the front porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.
Flick is Week Nine’s prose writer-in-residence at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center, and her lecture is the last of the literary arts Brown Bags for the season. Flick is the author of multiple works, including the short story collection Whiskey, Etc. She teaches in Chatham University’s food studies and MFA programs and co-directs the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival during the pre-season.
The idea of “contagious empathy” is one she’s been thinking about for a while, Flick said, and one she wants to dig into with her lecture.
“What I’ll look at is different ways to deliberately renew your creativity in everyday life,” Flick said. “Part of that has to do with empathy and thinking about how to empathize with people who you perhaps haven’t considered.”
Chautauquans seem like an ideal audience for this kind of talk, Flick said.
“I think it’s kind of a perfect lecture for Chautauqua because some of the things I’ll present can be practiced while people are there at the Institution,” Flick said. “That’ll be fun — I’ll give them some things to try, and then they can go out and experiment.”
Writers occupy a unique position when it comes to being empathetic and considerate, Flick said. Having a sense of empathy allows writers to get outside of themselves and write beyond their “own small world.”
“James Baldwin talked about how we need to be witness to events because that’s part of our job,” Flick said. “Our job is to replicate what’s happening, and in order to replicate what we see in the world, we have to think deeply and we have to understand it.”
But the idea of contagious empathy isn’t just for writers, Flick said. It’s something that anyone and everyone can practice in their everyday lives.
“I think that until we learn to radically see points of view that we don’t understand, we can’t really effectively work for change,” Flick said. “We have to see how and why there is so much craziness in our society. Part of that has to do with a lack of understanding and a lack of compassion. So working toward that as best we can, on a daily basis, is helpful.”
Flick said she’d like for her lecture to get people thinking about the ways in which they can connect with others, particularly those who are different from themselves.
“I would also hope that they leave feeling excited to be walking around in the natural world, observing things closely and finding that connection between observation and writing,” Flick said.
She also hopes that excitement will be contagious, Flick said.
“I think it’s how movements can thrive — you present a model of empathy and then people can join in,” Flick said. “And then there’s greater understanding among that group of people.”