Over winter break, I had the privilege of meeting Jamaican author Diana McCaulay, on a school-sponsored trip to Kingston. Prior to the trip, my class and I read her first novel, Dog-Heart, a heartbreaking story that highlights the extreme poverty and unequal access to opportunity that plagues a portion of Kingston’s population. In addition to being an author, McCaulay has also worked as an environmental activist for almost 25 years. She is currently working on a non-fiction book about her environmental work.
After reflecting on rest of the conversation my class had with her, I realized that the contents of Dogheart really demonstrated how true that statement was. In order to truly understand and write about the realities of poverty, race, and discrimination, McCaulay told our class she had to consciously observe the conditions in which other Jamaicans live, as she did not personally live with those realities. She further described writing as “an exercise in empathy,” as it forced her to reflect on her own life and privileges.
Writing is how I make sense of the world.
– Diana McCaulay
McCaulay’s motivation for writing stuck with me even after our meeting, as I continued to think about its implications. It seems to me that making sense of the world is also the reason why many of us study the humanities. By studying the humanities, we are able to gain insights on ourselves, others, and the past thus allowing us to better understand the strange world we live in.
Furthermore, the entire study of humanities is indeed “an exercise in empathy,” as the field forces us to think about and evaluate the wide variety of human experiences. Therefore, for those of us invested in the humanities, we should continue to pursue our interests, as this involvement is integral to the development of our personal understanding and empathy.
McCaulay’s fascinating dual career demonstrates how one can raise awareness of and advocate for certain issues (in her case social and environmental issues) through the humanities. By writing, McCaulay is able to disseminate her viewpoints to a wide audience, through a medium that will attract interest. Thus, McCaulay’s success as a writer shows how we all have the ability to work and advocate for the common good using humanities-based mediums, whether it be through art, writing, music, film, research, study, or debate.
For those interested in learning more about Diana McCaulay and her work, please visit her website.