Pittsburgh writers on how COVID-19 affects their work | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh

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CP photo illustration: Abbie Adams

Every significant historical event inevitably changes the way writers view the world.

by Stephen Crane The Red Badge of Courage and that of Mark Twain The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were created after the Civil War. by Irwin Shaw Young Lions, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, and The naked and the dead by Norman Mailer reflected life in the post-World War II era. And the attacks of September 11 inspired novels including that of Joseph O’Neill Netherlands, Extremely loud and incredibly close by Jonathan Safran Foer and Claire Messud The Emperor’s Children, among others.

The coronavirus pandemic will certainly impact the way writers tell stories, so Pittsburgh City Paper spoke to local writers (and an author musician) about the pandemic and its effects on their work.

Click to enlarge Pittsburgh writer Leslie Mcilroy

Pittsburgh writer Leslie Mcilroy

Leslie Mcilroy

Poet and author of poetry collection Slag


Mcilroy recently published a poem called “Zoosk/The Pandemic” on Vox populi. “I just read Frank O’Hara Meditations in case of emergency, and it’s a mixture of terror and joy that people can be so insightful and really say what you tried to say. Some good writers can produce a certain disturbing terror. It’s a reality. Tome, [writing] feels in some ways more real than what is happening. Have I ever seen a corpse? No, but I know it’s happening, and the writing somehow happens and takes you there. It’s scary, but it’s really poignant.

Click to enlarge Jim Rugg, cartoonist and comics writer from Pittsburgh - PHOTO: GARRET JONES

Photo: Garrett Jones

Jim Rugg, cartoonist and comic book writer from Pittsburgh

Jim Rugg

Comic book writer, bookmaker, illustrator, designer and co-author of The Plain Janes


Rugg believes some of the earliest artistic responses to the coronavirus pandemic came from advertising. “I love TV commercials for that reason. I think they’re a very accurate snapshot of the period. We’re going to see more and more of them. I’ve seen a lot of people recommend films and books that have dealt with of this subject in the past, almost like science fiction. And there are horror stories. If you’re in a household with a violent person, you can instantly imagine the nightmares. … I think all of those things are going to seep into the stories around us. And honestly, I think the journalistic part will be interesting. I expect journalists to dig into this for the rest of my life.

Click to enlarge Pittsburgh writer Sherrie Flick - PICTURED: RICHARD KELLY FOR THE PITTSBURGH WRITERS PROJECT

PHOTO: Richard Kelly for the Pittsburgh Writers Project

Sherrie Flick, Pittsburgh writer

sherrie movie

Writer, editor and author of flash fiction collections Thank your lucky stars and Whiskey, etc..


“I’ve always been very interested in the artisanal element of decor. I think I can process the atmosphere right now, and it’s interesting because it’s really empty. From where I live on the south side slopes I can look over Birmingham Bridge and during peak hours it is empty. This is interesting to me, and because I spent so much time thinking about the setup, I’m jotting it all down right now. But in a non-fiction way, where I need to write about the conceptual stuff that’s going on, I need space to do that.

Click to enlarge Pittsburgh writer Jonathan Auxier - PHOTO: LIBBY HILF

Photo: Libby Hilf

Pittsburgh writer Jonathan Auxier

Jonathan Auxier

Children’s and youth writer, author of Balayage: the story of a girl and her monster and Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard


“I see a lot of people, public and semi-public, doing amazing things and producing a lot of content that parents like me are really grateful to have. But I also know a lot of people are doing everything they can to keep the wheels and run their house and cover assembly costs. I think with all this talk, we kind of fetishized the productivity boost that this period can produce. But that’s not really the function of this period.

“If some people manage to do that, it’s amazing. I’m so glad Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the plague, and I’m glad we had King Lear now. But for those unable to write, they need to know that they are not alone. I know a lot of writers who haven’t been able to produce anything since it all started, and that makes sense because we’re all overwhelmed, and hopefully we can be gentle with ourselves.

Click to enlarge Amy Rigby, writer and musician from Pittsburgh - PHOTO: CHRIS SIKICH

Photo: Chris Sikich

Amy Rigby, writer and musician from Pittsburgh

Amy Rigby

Native of Mount Lebanon, musician and author of memoirs girl in town and the blog Amy Rigby’s Diary


“It’s really hard to write about anything to do with it. … I wrote a song related to all of that and started recording it, and it was more like pushing myself to do it. to do. To just grab an image or an idea that’s directly related to the coronavirus and write something about it. It’s more of an immediate thing. I don’t know if it’s a good song, but it made me good.”

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