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Writing to Not Freak Out: The Role of Literature in the Face of 2020s Pandemic


Writing to Not Freak Out: The Role of Literature in the Face of 2020s Pandemic


Pedro Panhoca da Silva

Ph. D. Research Scholar,

Mackenzie Presbyterian University (UPM),

São Paulo, Brazil


Abstract: Much is reported in the media about what the health area has done as prevention and combating the new coronavirus, but the humanities area sometimes does not have its importance raised and disseminated as it deserves. This article seeks to show how the current period of pandemic of the new coronavirus can favor the emergence of potential new writers who help to meet the demand for a literature whose fiction addresses COVID -19. Giffoni, Santos, Tavares, Prades and Guérios Neto were some authors selected to discuss about the relations between literature and pandemic, and Koch was selected because of his writing techniques. It´s believed that writing about pandemic in the heat of the moment can benefit readers and authors, besides register these firsts moments in this hard time for humanity. In contrary most people believe, readers can look for texts about pandemic, and to supply this demand new and old writers can fill this readers´ wish.


Key words:


Writing, Literary anthology, COVID -19, Publication




The popular saying "prevention is better than cure" can summarise what the human being has failed to do in the face of the new coronavirus. Treated from irrelevant illness to supernatural punishment, little was known, yet, about COVID-19, but what everyone learned is that the pandemic is not something that was restricted to the Middle Ages and rats.

According to Raphael Vandystadt – Director of Institutional Relations and Sustainability at Agência África – if humanity does not take any advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic it will be doomed to experience endless new pandemics (Guérios Neto and Vandystadt), since, according to writer Luis Giffoni, every human being – with a full life – can witness a bright comet in the sky, the fall of a meteorite on Earth and a new pandemic (Santos et al.). It seems that humanity having witnessed the bubonic plague, malaria, yellow fever, AIDS and many others at least 3000 years ago (Santos et al.) is still far from being fully aware.


Because it is a crisis, at first, linked to public health, it is wrongly thought that only health professionals have the mission to save humanity from the pandemonium that the world has become. However, while laboratories test vaccines, perform experiments to weaken the virus and increase the humanity of human beings, and care for the sick in hospitals and health clinics, what can literature do about this?


According to Luis Giffoni, reading is a matter of public and economic health (Santos et al.). Since COVID-19 has changed the routine of much of the population, the creation of new texts aimed at readers who seek fiction or non-fiction about the new coronavirus is of great relevance at this time. It seems that the literary taste of some may be directed, in the current context, to the works produced in the heat of the moment. And, in this work of supplying a new demand of readers in search of this thematic, beginners and renowned writers may know the chance both to express what they have, at the same time as their creations "come to life" in paperback or digital files.


Unoriginal Dystopias: Arts and Pandemics


Given all that has been and has been produced so far, what do publishers and the publishing market have offered their readers? More than offering contracts to already known authors, in the information age in which publishing has become more democratic, beginning writers who one day seek fame in this craft or even who have seen literature as a way of simply expressing themselves were able to get to know the consequences of their literary contact with COVID-19.


History has sorbed from pandemics and some classic works have stood the test of time. História da guerra do Peloponeso, by Tucídides, and História e descrição da febre amarela epidêmica grassou no Rio de Janeiro em 1850, by José Pereira Rego, are two examples among many found throughout history. Rejane Dias dos Santos – executive director of the Autêntica Group – says that during the pandemic there was a growth in sales of books focused on social sciences, political sciences and general history (Santos et al.), which can confirm that History and Public Health have a millennial close relationship.


Written language is not only about stories. Contrary to what the clichéd idea of common sense sometimes proposes that literature is a closed system in itself that feeds back, this art form has evident ties with epidemiology. Canonical works such as Boccaccio's Decamerão and Edgar Allan Poe's A Máscara da Morte Rubra have taken pandemics as a theme for their texts, as have more recent works such as Mario Bellatin's Salão de Beleza and Emily St. John Mandel's Estação Onze. Many other examples, older or more recent, can be mentioned, and one realises that in different historical periods, the account of the pandemic along with fiction is recurrent to the history of humanity. Rejane Dias dos Santos states that the interest and consumption for canonical works of literature have known an important increase, besides the Autêntica group having known an increase of 84% in general book sales (Santos et al.). She also adds that books like Pollyanna in which the characters are heroes and benefactors, have sold more than books that address dystopias (Santos et al.), perhaps due to the fact that readers, while seeking texts about pandemics, also want to find "saviors of the world" in the space.


The 7th art has also sometimes addressed the theme of epidemiology. In the time of VHS, two examples were the films Philadelphia and Virus, while in the DVD format can be found works such as Viral. Those who believe that the approach of dystopias ends in Hollywood productions are mistaken, since Asian productions – such as Pandora – have also turned the disease into a form of entertainment and reflection. Possibly, the climax of film productions of this theme will be with the streaming platforms, as is the case of Netflix and the exhibition of films like How it ends in its catalogue.


Comics and webcomics also offered their first texts to readers. The 2nd issue of the independent magazine Pé-de-cabra had diseases as its theme – even before the world empirically knew what a pandemic actually was –, and other comics who opted for the online format also shared their creations, such as Sonhos de Pandemia, by Alice Pereira, and Confinada, by Leandro Assis, posted on social networks or webpages of their own.


This is perhaps the great freedom and challenge for any potential writer: the absence of contemporary models on what and how to do about texts whose theme addresses the pandemic. Just as there may be doubts about which rules to follow in the process of textual creation by writers – especially those who are starting out – Koch can calm the anxiety and insecurity of neophyte authors by stating that the only rule to be followed is not to get stuck on anything: "please remember this. There are no rules. The moment one precept or another obstructs your path instead of opening it, you must leave it aside. The moment some opinion stifles your work instead of stimulating it, you must dismiss it" (Koch XV).


Other aforementioned examples can prove what Rejane Dias dos Santos stated: the book was, in 2020, possibly the greatest protagonist of the human being (Santos et al.), as well as other entertainment objects. In the midst of this, each writer shapes their way of writing, being influenced by previous writers and influencing new ones, as has always occurred in the history of literature.


New Literature for New Disease:


The publishing market has experienced a boom in publications of the most varied aspects. It is noticeable that from the economic concerns of Soou o alarme: A crise do capitalismo para além da pandemia, by Fressato and Nóvoa, to the colouring book How Pandemic Nurse Swear at work – Mental Healing Coloring Book: A Humorous Swear Word Coloring Book for Pandemic Diseases, Epidemic Nurses Pressure ... Nurse Mom Gift for This Mothers Day, by RNS Coloring Studio, it is virtually impossible not to know about the current new coronavirus pandemic. Before what was a taboo or something unbelievable to man is now banalised and therefore less mysterious, and literature also plays an important role in this reverse apotheosis of COVID-19.


What has occurred in the Brazilian publishing market – especially in publishers with less economic power – is not very different from the rest of the world: literary contests and commissions from small and medium-sized publishers have promoted a large uptake of short texts such as poems and short stories to be published in literary anthologies. Two examples of this can be found in Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America's Poets Respond to the Pandemic and 20 contos sobre a pandemia de 2020. It is a quick way of literary compilation, since deadlines are stipulated and a good part of the costs for the production of these works are shared among the writers contemplated with the publication – generally sold on demand – ranging from tens to hundreds of dollars depending on the quality of finish and support of the work. This practice can unite, in the same work, good and bad texts, which interferes with its unity as a whole, but it is a good opportunity for beginner authors to publish and disseminate their first texts in the traditional way. When aspiring writers are familiar with blogs or social networks, they can choose to publish in digital magazines or even e-books, whose call for publication works in a similar way to print publications.


Rejane Dias dos Santos was impressed by the fact that many non-readers came into contact with books during the first wave of the pandemic in Brazil. Moreover, the executive director of the Autêntica Group and the writer Rogério Faria Tavares – patron and occupant of the 8th chair of the Academia Mineira de Letras – say that the pandemic favored a closer approach of the Academies of Letters to the general population (Santos et al.). The proof of this are the hundreds of literary contests promoted around the country precisely by members of these academies, revealing local and national talents in various categories. Santos also recognizes that what has been produced in the heat of the moment may guide readers and writers how literature will be from the pandemic outbreak onwards (Santos et al.).


According to Dolores Prades – director of the Emilia Institute and publisher of Emilia magazine – recognizing books as a resource that is as essential as basic food has also helped to extend literature to non-readers, especially the less well-off sections of the population, who have ended up with physical books and – in some communities – even community libraries (Prades). Also according to Prades, such actions go beyond the accumulation of books in a depository environment and consequent actions of these fraternity campaigns have shown positive results (Prades). An example can be found in the poems of Lucas Lins published in its own social network site Instagram, known as Poesias pra matar o corona (França).


Besides the new talents who dared to express themselves through writing, artists who were often shown by the media also took advantage of the pandemic of the new coronavirus to launch their first texts. Martinho da Vila, one of the main sambistas in the country, claims to be a reader of Machado de Assis and to have used the time of isolation to write a book of chronicles to be published in the future (Vila).

It is clear from the above examples, therefore, that isolation can have its beneficial side. And voluntary or forced solitude can provide writers with moments that can be filled by self-expression through the use of words. According to Koch,


Except in journalism, writing is necessarily a solitary craft, the loneliest of all the arts. The excessive quotient of loneliness implicit in the act of writing, as well as the need not only to tolerate it but even to love it, is an inexorable characteristic of the craft and one of the most obvious psychological facts to understand about it. All too often, however, aspiring writers condemn themselves – as if by punishment for their desire to write – to find their way alone, half by chance and without any help, to the most elementary methods of doing so (Koch XII).


Koch further argues that deliberation about the act of writing is recurrent in people's minds, but that few "brave" people actually risk producing their first texts (Koch XIV-XV)


It is still too early to assess the literary quality of these literary anthologies, a job to be done by critics who are interested in what was produced at the climax of the tragedy that marked the beginning of the 2020s. However, encouraging production in the heat of the moment may be more fruitful than one might think.




Talking about metaphors, Áureo Lustosa Guérios Neto - host and creator of the podcast that discusses the relationship between history, arts and diseases called Viral Literature – believes that literature can work as a buoy for a reader who is in high seas (Guérios Neto and Vandystadt). This means that not only psychologists can help those who had their mental health collapsed by the sudden changes imposed by the pandemic of the new coronavirus, but the literary text, whether fictional or not, can prove to be an important instrument to understand the other and mutually enrich the helper and the helped. Biologically speaking, according to Luís Giffoni, reading serves as prevention to Alzheimer – especially fiction - because it stimulates the connection between neurons, helps in affective relationships, sharpens the critical sense (Santos et al.), and the same can also comfort those who were forcibly isolated from the old routine, seeking refuge in the texts.  In this way, a reader who consumes what a writer produced in the middle of the heat of the pandemic moment may have empathy awakened, besides being able to seek more self-knowledge. It is not strange that this happens, because in these moments of global and personal bewilderment it is natural for people to seek dialogue with literature and not resort directly to specialists (Guérios Neto and Vandystadt).


Just as everything produced in the period between 1939 and 1945 about the Second World War, for example, can only be evaluated with greater clarity long after that world conflict has ended, what has been produced in the heat of the moment of the pandemic may be better evaluated in the future, but the absence of the report, vent, denounce or reverie of the present constitutes an erasure of history and possible future recurrence, if a new catastrophe of the magnitude of the new coronavirus or other disease capable of reaching pandemic proportions spreads around the world.


Rejane Dias dos Santos states that many writers have not been able to yield as they would like because of the pandemic of the new coronavirus – as acknowledged by the Anglo-Indian writer Salman Rushdie himself (Rushide 28) – as well as other professions as well, but there are others who managed to find in the COVID-19 pandemic their great opportunity for textual production (Santos et al.), offering them new texts for appreciation and criticism. Two examples of national writers who used the year 2020 as a source of inspiration were Gisele Mirabai – from Minas Gerais – with her novel Ana de Corona – and Felipe Franco Munhoz – with Parêntesis.


According to Koch,

The life of writers generally passes in phases, and each new phase of a creative life necessarily implies a kind of new beginning and, quite possibly, a new technique as well. Starting afresh is difficult and can be daunting. We never start again from the old starting point and we rarely arrive at the old answers. Living this uncertainty at any time in life is a disturbing experience - but also a great and wonderful one. It is the uncertainty of promise, the anxious, experimental hope from which everything of value arises (Koch XVII).

The current world crisis caused by the pandemic of the new coronavirus would be, in this way, a new phase that all humanity has experienced. Having revealed itself in a surprising way to the Earth, it has ended up as a surprise to many people. And it is, therefore, precisely in this revelation that writers can act: writing about their own venting, times and experiences, among many other writing possibilities.


Certainly, the year 2020 has served to take many people out of their comfort zones, and one can take advantage of this forced change. At times like this, it is worth considering what Koch says: "I have no doubt that the day will come when you will be smarter or better informed or more skilled than you are now, but you will never be more ready to start writing than right now. The time has come" (Koch 2009). Being the time favorable or not, the writer will only know if you really have talent for a number of factors such as refusal – and their reasons – the approval with notes that can improve your text, the acceptance and even the award for merit and / or literary quality. However, the potential writer will only know which of these and other consequences life has in store for him from the moment he begins to write his own texts.


The reason why an author decides to write about the pandemic is not relevant. Those who believed that no reader would be interested in the theme exhaustively covered by the news media were wrong. Publications of different textual genres have occurred and, if there is publication, it is because there must be demand. Writing in the heat of the moment both supplies a demand from readers who are interested in the theme of the pandemic(s) in the form of fiction or non-fiction, and also prepares the literary field that will be able to focus on the post-2020 production in order to evaluate what was produced with literary quality at the climax of the pandemic crisis or what will be produced after it. It does not matter what happens: those who value literature will benefit in some way.




1.      Guérios Neto, Áureo Lustosa, and Raphael Vandystadt. “O Corona e a Literatura: é possível extrair algo bom da pandemia?”. YouTube, uploaded by Agência África, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6cJRnLRKgE


2.      Assis, Leandro. “Confinada”. 2020. https://www.instagram.com/leandro_assis_ilustra/?hl=pt.


3.      Bellatin, Mario. Salão de Beleza. Translated by Antonio Carlos Santos. Cultura e Barbárie, 2018.


4.      Bezerra, Anselmo César Vasconcelos, et al. “Fatores associados ao comportamento da população durante o isolamento social na pandemia de COVID-19”. Ciênc. saúde coletiva, June, 2020, pp.2411-2422. https://www.scielosp.org/pdf/csc/2020.v25suppl1/2411-2421/pt>. Acessed 01 March 2021


5.      Boccaccio, Giovanni. Decamerão. Translated by Torrieri Guimarães. Nova Cultural, 2003.


6.      “28 days”, directed by Danny Boyle, performances by Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Megan Burns and Brendan Gleeson.  DNA Films, UK Film Council, 2002.


7.      “Philadelphia”, directed by Jonathan Demme, performances by Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Jason Robards, Mary Steenburgen and Antonio Banderas. Clinica Estetico, 1993.


8.      Santos, Rejane Dias dos, et al. “Literatura da Pandemia”. YouTube, uploaded by Fórum do Amanhã.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s67TZIMDh9c


9.      França, Wenderson. “Lucas Lins, o poeta da favela, criou as ‘Poesias Pra Matar o Corona’”. 2020. https://kondzilla.com/m/lucas-lins-o-poeta-da-favela-criou-as-poesias-pra-matar-o-corona.


10.  Fressato, Soleni Biscouto, and Jorge Nóvia (Eds.). Soou o alarme: A crise do capitalismo para além da pandemia. Perspectiva, 2020.


11.  Koch, Stephen. Oficina de escritores: um manual para a arte da ficção. Translated by Marcelo Dias Almada. WMF Martins Fontes, 2009.


12.  Mandel, Emily St. John. Estação Onze. Translated by Rubens Figueiredo. Intrínseca, 2015.


13.  Mirabai, Gisele. Ana de Corona. Kindle, 2020.


14.  Prades, Dolores. “O alcance da literatura durante a pandemia, com Dolores Prades”. YouTube, uploaded by Mulheres de Luta. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCZ6_qoExlQ


15.  Munhoz, Felipe Franco. “Parêntesis”. 2020. https://cultura.estadao.com.br/blogs/radar-cultural/wpcontent/uploads/sites/97/2020/06/parentesis-10-de-junho_120620200713.pdf.


16.  “Pandora”, directed by Park Jung-woo, performances by Kim Nam-gil, Kim Young-ae, Kim Ju-hyeon, Jung Jin-young, Moon Jeong-hee, Kim Dae-myung, Lee Geung-young, Kang Shin-il, Yoo Seung-mok, Joo Jin-mo, Song Yeong-chang, Kim Young-woong, Kim Myung-min, Kim Hye-eun and Oh Ye-sul, Next Entertainment World, 2016.


17.  Panhoca, Carlos. Pé-de-cabra. Independent publishing, no. 2, 2019


18.  Pereira, Alice. “Sonhos de pandemia”. 2020. https://minadehq.com.br/sonhos-da-pandemia-quadrinho-alice-pereira/.


19.  Porter, Eleanor H. Pollyanna. Translated by Márcia Soares Guimarães Autêntica infantil ejuvenil, 2016.


20.  “How it ends”, directed by David M. Rosenthal, performances by Theo James, Forest Whitaker, Grace Dove, Kat Graham and Mark O´Brien, Sierra Affinity, Paul Schiff Productions, 2018.


21.  Poe, Edgar Allan. A Máscara da Morte Rubra. Translated by unknown author. Melhoramentos, 2011.


22.  Quinn, Alice (Ed.). Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America's Poets Respond to the Pandemic. Knopf, 2020.


23.  Rego, José Pereira. História e descrição da febre amarela epidêmica que grassou no Rio de Janeiro em 1850. Editora 34, 2020.


24.  RNS Coloring Studio. How Pandemic Nurse Swear at work - Mental Healing Coloring Book: A Humorous Swear Word Coloring Book for Pandemic Diseases, Epidemic Nurses Pressure


25.  ... Nurse Mom Gift for This Mothers Day. Independent publishing, 2020.


26.  Rushdie, Salman. “Reconstruir a crença das pessoas na verdade será um longo processo”. Folha de S. Paulo, 2021, pp. 28.


27.  Tavares, Rogério Faria (Ed.). 20 contos sobre a pandemia de 2020. Autêntica, 2020.


28.  Tucídides. História da guerra do Peloponeso: Livro I. Translated by Anna Lia Amaral de Almeida Prado. 3. ed. WMF Martins Fontes - POD, 2013.


29.  Vila, Martinho da. “Me desvinculem daquilo”. Veja, ed. 2716, year 53, no. 50, 2020, pp. 20.


30.  “Viral”, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, performances by Sofia Black D´Elia, Analeigh Tipton, Travis Tope, Colson Baker and Michael Kelly. Blumhouse Productions, Busted Shark Productions, IM Global, 2016


31.  “Virus”, directed by John Bruno, performances by Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Sutherland, William Baldwin, Joanna Pacuła and Marshall Bell, Dark Horse Entertainment, Mutual Film Company, Valhalla Entertainment, 1999.