Where Is Everyone?

It’s kind of post-apocalyptic around here. NYC. Where I live.

That picture was shot recently by Josh, from the Gotham staff. You see a deserted sidewalk in Astoria, Queens, adorned with a blown-open brochure. Happens to be a Gotham brochure, showing words that relate to our slogan: “Stories. Everywhere.”

Yes, we all have stories right now. All the people shuttered nearby in their apartments in Astoria and the rest of this great city. All the people coping elsewhere, like my niece in Austin who can’t invite folks to see her newly-born son, or our former intern Emilia who was quarantined in Milan just ahead of us, or our former intern Zamy who recently fled Moscow to stay with her family in Dagestan.

Is this a good time to tell our stories?

Sloane Crosley wrote a piece in the NY Times advising us to wait a while before writing about the current situation, wondering why “we continue trying to interpret our nightmares as they happen?” Kelly Caldwell, Gotham’s Dean of Faculty, wrote a post advising us not to feel pressured to create just because we have down time.

All good advice. But if it helps to stare it down, feel free to write or read something that puts you in the thick of things. There’s a well-worn list of great post-apocalyptic stories (Stephen King’s The Stand, Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, Pixar’s WALL-E, etc.).

I also think of two interesting short stories, both chilling with a touch of wit.

Carmen Maria Machado’s “Inventory”: We get twenty vignettes of the protagonist’s sexual encounters over time, but gradually we discover there’s a virus ravaging the country. No social distancing here. It’s like the woman is trying to fend off reality with sex.

TC Boyle’s “After the Plague”: There doesn’t seem to be anyone around after the plague until the protagonist encounters a woman around his own age. They might be the last two people left, so they start “dating,” but, well, they don’t get along and so they break up.

This latter story is collected in the Gotham short story anthology Fiction Gallery, and I honestly can’t think of a better book to have lying around these days. I’m the co-editor of this book, and we made sure every story made for a spellbinding read.

But, look, I don’t want you to dwell in a dark place or feel like a fool if you’re not being productive. I want you to find calm and connection, and maybe Gotham can provide some of that with one our classes or our various free options, like the Friday Write-Ins.

Stay tuned, folks. I’m really glad you’re there.

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Alex Steele
President, Gotham Writers Workshop

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