Covid-19 in literature

Published in May 2020

Telling stories has long been a way for humans to make sense of life’s many events. Little more than a year has passed since the beginning of the first UK lockdown, and we already know that huge amounts have been published about the current pandemic, chiefly online and prominently in the sciences and social sciences. In this blog post we present some of the stories authors are telling about and around COVID-19. 

In her book Viral Modernism: the Influenza Pandemic and interwar literature, Elizabeth Outka reveals that, even if the 1918-1919 pandemic ‘faded from historical and cultural memory […], [and was] overshadowed by World War One and the turmoil of the interwar period’, it in fact ‘shaped canonical works of fiction and poetry’, to the extent of framing modernism with its ‘hidden but widespread presence’. 

At present, one wonders what could overshadow our circumstances (other than climate change). And one also wonders, with libraries and publishers currently prioritising online publications, what future historians might say about the 2020/2021 pandemic literary material which made it into print, the format we are focusing on in this post. 

So far, in our catalogue, we feature, in Italian, Spanish and French: 

Andrà tutto bene: gli scrittori al tempo della quarantena, with stories by Caterina Bonvicini, Federica Bosco and many more. Published in Milan by Garzanti impressively early in May 2020 (C216.c.4492, image above). 

Cuentos de la peste, by Gustavo Alzugaray, Carolina Bello and 25 others. Published in Montevideo (Uruguay) by Editorial Fin de Siglo in 2020 (C206.d.5333). In this work, established as well as young Uruguayan authors narrate 27 short stories “for times of a new (ab)normality”. 

Marina A.: roman, by Éric Fottorino. Published by Gallimard in 2021 (C206.d.5325). With the real-life artist Marina Abramović playing a background role, this is the first time an author gives a description of life in the times of the first coronavirus lockdown in a novel. 

The bibliographic records for these books have COVID-19 (Disease) – Fiction as their subject heading. Searching for these keywords in iDiscover gives results for both electronic and print material in our collections – you can see a full list here. From this list we particularly recommend the title Covid stories from East Africa and beyond, edited by Mary Njeri Kinyanjui, Roopal Thaker and Kathryn Toure and published in Mankon, Bamenda, in 2020. 

The catalogue record for Elizabeth Outka’s book mentioned earlier features the subject heading Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919, in literature. How long until the Library of Congress establishes the heading COVID-19 Pandemic, 2019-20??, in literature

Clara Panozzo

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