A recent Notre Dame Magazine article asked, "What Good Is Literature?" The author posits that literature helps us better understand the world, engendering a greater capacity for empathy. She quotes cognitive psychologist and novelist Keith Oatley who told the NYT in 2012: "Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life."
We asked local authors and writers how they're making sense of the current coronavirus pandemic. From reading more to writing less, here's what they had to say.
W. Scott Poole, College of Charleston Professor and author of books like Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting
I have always thought of myself as a disciplined writer and I generally feel lazy if I have not put some words to paper every day. I love a Kafka quote about writing being "a leap out of murderer's row; a way of stepping out of your own context and looking at it."
But, I've found it very challenging to write at this moment even though it appears I have much more time. For me, at least part of it is that I am trying to teach my CofC courses online. I write about what I teach and vice versa and I think losing the energy in the room from student questions, comments, and debates, energy, that I then can take back with me to my writing desk, has had an effect on me.
I think it's also important for, maybe especially writers who are just beginning, to give themselves a break if they can't focus right at this moment. Real writers never feel they are writing enough.
Cinelle Barnes, author of Monsoon Mansion and Malaya: Essays on Freedom
It's been a juggle: working from home, homeschooling, cooking, trying to stay connected with friends and family, many of whom are in New York and are personally suffering from COVID-19.
Homeschooling has given me and my daughter a chance to write together. She writes poetry for school, for which I am happy to assist with ideation, composition, and revision. For an only child, I clearly understand how this isolation has made her feel. I know she enjoys being home but misses her friends greatly.
I produce content for Water Mission, a local NGO in the water, sanitation, and hygiene sector. I produce written material for both advocacy for needs in rural, refugee, and post-disaster settings, and for materials such as proposals, emails, and talking points to raise support for supplies and resources that help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in these under-resourced, at-risk places. This kind of writing directly impacts communities and institutions such as schools and health centers.
I've also been working on a chapter for a new book project that is also on water scarcity, poverty, and inequity. Last weekend, I added a whole section on how water-stressed areas and populations disproportionately suffer from humanitarian and health crises such as COVID-19. Without the resources they need to build their health and maintain their safety, such as safe water for hand washing, communities cannot protect themselves from the spread of often fatal diseases. I put this all into perspective by talking about how I've explained this to my daughter, while also feeling the disruption and damage of the pandemic at home — how I, or we, can be backyard advocates despite our own shortages and hurts.
Susan Zurenda, author of recently released novel, Bells For Eli
I keep telling myself I will start drafting some chapters of my second novel (I have plenty of notes), but so far my focus has been trying to connect with readers through online avenues. I've lined up several virtual writing workshops with indie bookstores in the coming days. I conducted this writing workshop, "Family Stories: Evoking Genuine Emotion in Your Characters" live three times on my short tour, and it went over quite well. In isolation, people need stimulation and they need to connect to family and still tell stories when they can't do so in person, so I hope the writing worship will be a positive experience for participants. It also offers me the opportunity to engage creatively and help others.
During these quiet days, I am also doing a lot of reading just for myself, and not for publicity purposes (I currently unemployed from my job at Magic Time for obvious reasons). My reading time is glorious. I sit on my front porch with a glass of wine in the early evening and read to my heart's content.
Claire Bidwell Smith, author of books like Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief and After This
I wish I were writing more because it's always my way of processing life changes and the feelings that come along with something as big as this.
But between supervising homeschool for two elementary age kids, wrangling an energetic toddler, and keeping the house clean, I'm writing more in my head than on paper! For now, I'm trying to lean into the chaos and I'm taking notes because I know that the writing will come eventually.
Melanie Griffin, freelance writer
Honestly, I'm finding it hard to write now because I can't separate my writing space from my living space nearly as well as before all this started. Going to another space (even if it's just the crappy little "business center" in my apartment complex) has always been a big part of me going into writing mode, so I'm struggling to
get any sort of fiction done. I've been able to push myself to get my freelance journalism/content stuff done because deadlines and money, basically, but it's taken longer and is more difficult than usual. But I can't complain too much, still got a day job and they're letting me work remote, and I'm not sick and neither is anyone in my family. It's a great time to just ... be still. I think that's great to remember.
Marcus Amaker, Charleston poet laureate, author of several books, musician, and graphic designer
I've used this time to finish up my latest book, which includes two virus-related poems. Now that the book is finished, I've been writing less. Reading more. Napping more. Doing work for my design clients. Making a lot of music. And watching Star Wars, which resulted in this piece (attached). For me, the best use of this time is to be silent. The longer the quarantine lasts, the more I am thankful for the moments I choose to be still.
Grady Hendrix, author of newly released novel The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires
I'm a member of the Class of Spring 2020: authors whose books are coming out in the midst of all this mayhem, which isn't a national tragedy, but it's a source of uncertainty and stress for those of us who pay our bills by writing. Will people buy books right now? Will the reviews get lost in the daily avalanche of headlines? In three months will I be able to rebook my canceled book tour, or will people be eating their neighbors and burning books for fuel? The one thing that gives me any comfort right now is writing. It's what I know how to do, and nothing feels better than to sit down every day and disappear down an inkhole. I still keep 9-5 hours because I've still got deadlines, but even if I didn't I'd still be writing for a few hours each day. It's what I do. It's hard to get started, but it's always hard to get started, and once it's going, there's nothing better.
- Ashley Rose Stanol file
Corrie Wang, author of books like The Takedown and City of Beasts, co-owner of Jackrabbit Filly
Through this all, I've actually been getting a lot of writing done ... Or trying to? In the four months our restaurant was open, I wrote one day. For me, it's — when am I ever going to have an opportunity like this to focus again? Though the focusing part has been difficult. I think that's one of the things of being a writer, when you have a quiet moment or some down time, your'e consumed with feelings of: I should be working. So even as we're hiding and recouping from our first crazy months open and hoping that isn't all we'll be allowed, my brain keeps saying, what you actually should be doing is writing.
I'm not sure if it does or does not help that I'm working on a middle grade novel this time about talking unicorns and science.