Ask who Atticus Finch is, and most will remember him from high school English as the heroic lawyer defending an unjustly charged African-American man in To Kill a Mockingbird. Ever since Harper Lee imagined him into life in 1960, the name “Atticus Finch” has become shorthand for a person who acts according to their conscience, not majority rule.
This talk delves into the many ways our country is deeply shaped by Harper Lee, as well as by the best-selling author who lived in the century before her—Harriet Beecher Stowe. Using To Kill a Mockingbird and Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin—the novel largely credited with moving the United States into the Civil War—Michelle Liu invites participants to think about how these two works of fiction still fundamentally shape, as well as limit, how we think about skin color, morality, and who counts as human. How can fiction help us imagine building more empathy and openness to those with experiences different from our own?
*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. Liu lives in Seattle.