When William Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for Literature, he implored the then-younger, perhaps more jaded writers to exhibit this quality. The next year, John Steinbeck followed suit and called for it as well. Maxine Hong Kingston has called it the most important quality a writer can possess.
And David Foster Wallace rhapsodized about it, which was then valorized in this viral video and perhaps suffered from living with it in such high measures.
It’s not focus. Not discipline. Not imagination. Not talent. Although every one of those counts in large measures.
I am talking about compassion, and Pam Houston knows, lives, and writes with it. It seems as much her companion as her dog Dante.
Readers find it in her characters from one of her much-loved intertwined short stories in Cowboys Are My Weakness or her most recent novel Contents May Have Shifted (Pam travels a lot) or from one of her three other titles. Students find it in at U.C. Davis where she directs the Creative Writing Program and at writer’s conferences around the country, including the Taos Summer Writer’s Conference where Pam and I taught for numerous years.
(Science of creativity link: By the way, there’s a reciprocity between compassion and reading fiction. It turns out Jean-Jacques Rousseau was right: Reading fiction develops some people’s social intelligence, empathy, and capacity to read other people’s emotions.)
I’m pleased to share with you today the Books That Matter to Pam Houston. Read more