Two months ago, in the bleak early days of Coronavirus isolation, when the pandemic’s impact could be sensed like a shadow, but its severity and pervasiveness were not yet known or charted, we sent an email to our contributors inviting them to write something about it. It was not, to be frank, a deeply considered idea, nor was it an unselfish one: we were disturbed, saddened, at a loss, so we turned naturally to the same artists whose work has consoled and given us purpose throughout these last three tumultuous years.
The first piece to arrive in response to our call was Jianan Qian’s “I Am Chinese: Do You Hate Me?” a moving and plaintive account of standing buffeted by the storm of emergent xenophobia kicked up by the current President’s speech. Subsequent entries explored the virus’s impact on undocumented labor (Sergio Aguilar Rivera’s “House Cleaning in the Time of Corona”), activism (Arash Azizi’s “A May Day Without Crowds”), family relationships (Shubha Sunder’s “We Had Time”), and memory (Anca Roncea’s “Quarantine,” Maija Mäkinen’s “The Sound of Sirens”). They touched upon politics, both here and abroad, (Iheoma Nwachukwu’s “Good Neighbors Are Hard to Find,” Mehdi Kashani’s “In Isolation, But For Once Not Alone”), and staked a claim to the persistence of beauty in the midst of often unbearable suffering (Donna Hemans’s “Importing Color,” Rooja Mohassessy’s “Pestilence”).
The authors of the ten entries in this series hail from seven different countries. As we read their contributions, we were struck, alongside this diversity, by a common ethic, a recognition that what is precious in the everyday and the commonplace is not diminished but enriched by mortality, the assertion of which, like migration, is basic to the human story. They reminded us, as we watched nations retreat, cast blame, and close borders, that too often we turn away from each other precisely in response to those phenomena that most clearly illustrate all that we share.
Reading through submissions for our next print issue—centered around the climate crisis—we are reminded daily that, even in the midst of a plague, there remain other crises, other urgencies. And as we resume reading general submissions to The Latest, we can see that neither crisis has extinguished people's urge to tell new stories and to write about the possibilities of the world.
David, Nyuol, and Etan
The Bare Life Review