"I teach at an all-woman undergrad [college] and there was this extra feeling of, 'How did this happen?'" Bender said. "What I told them is, 'Your work is so important now because you're showing people how to be human.' People need to learn the importance of everyone's humanity."
The value and power of empathy have deep roots in the work of both Karen and her sister, Aimee Bender, both of whom will be in Boise on Thursday, March 9 as part of The Cabin's Readings and Conversations series at the Egyptian Theatre.
The Bender sisters have a lot in common. They're family, accomplished authors and educators, but their approaches to writing and attitudes toward literature's place in the world are as different as their personalities. Aimee, whose works often traffic in mystical or meta-real elements, said, "When someone says something, sometimes it just has a ring of truth. Certain kinds of trueness carry heft. In that heft, there's connection."
In other words, Truth-with-a-capital-T transcends the facts, and fiction can be a gateway to it—a bit of wisdom borrowed from the Benders' psychoanalyst father.
By contrast, Karen said the news "definitely feeds into my work." She drove with friends to a town hall for one of her congressmen—while Aimee, a mother of 3-year-old twins, was working on a novel and a short story collection. Karen spoke of being captivated by "language and sentences that feel new, plot and how the story unfolds."
The Benders have been equally rewarded with creative and critical success: Aimee has written five books, two of which are New York Times Notable Books, and her short fiction has been published in McSweeney's, Harper's and The Paris Review. Karen's short story collection, Refund, was a National Book Award finalist. Her own short fiction has been published in The New Yorker, The Harvard Review and The Iowa Review.
Karen is currently working on a new novel. Closer to completion is another short story collection, which she said deals heavily with issues of censorship and "the unspoken." Aimee said she isn't ready to talk about a novel she's working on, which she said is progressing slowly.
During their visit to Boise—which will be the first such event they've participated in together—Aimee and Karen will also visit the Marian Pritchett School, as well as conduct an informal literary talk at Payette Brewing. Their Readings and Conversations engagement at Egyptian is set to begin at 8 p.m.