Telling COVID‑19 Stories

Gammel, Irene | $36,208

Ontario Ryerson University 2021 SSHRC

Several waves of the COVID‑19 pandemic have fuelled the production of a vast body of writings both online and in print, with diaries, fiction, verse, and graphic narratives talking about the lockdown, deaths, and suffering. This is evidenced in writings as diverse as Kitty O’Meara’s web poem “And the People Stayed Home” (2020), an online sensation prompting a musical rendering and a short film, before being anthologized in print (Quinn 2020); The Quarantine Diaries (Creative Arts Foundation of Canada 2020), based on a Canadian writing contest with teens articulating their struggle with the COVID‑19 experience; and Margaret Atwood’s COVID-19-inspired collaborative novel Fourteen Days (2021), set on a Manhattan rooftop. Using narrative theories, including theories of the outbreak narrative, my team and I propose to provide a theoretical framework for analyzing these works. We aim to identify and contextualize the shifting trends of COVID‑19 narratives from writing the early outbreak (with expressions of crisis and shock), to writing between the waves (highlighting patterns), to the transition from pandemic to endemic writings (with a focus on vaccinations). By theorizing this corpus of COVID‑19 narratives, our research program will open a new domain of studies at the intersection of COVID‑19 studies, narrative studies, and cultural studies. This theoretical framework is significant in generating short- and long-term perspectives on the pandemic, providing a foundation for future scholars, and helping survivors remember the devastation and hope.

Thus, the first objective is to develop a theoretical framework to perform a critical identification and contextualization of COVID‑19 narratives. By identifying trends and subgenres (e.g. the lockdown diary; pandemic web poetry; pandemic fiction), this research program will establish COVID‑19 narratives as a relevant genre shaped by hybridity and different genders, ethnicities, socioeconomics, and ages. While focussing on narratives in English including English translation, the second objective is to research, build, and publicize an interactive online database. The database will be updated with annotated entries and include an interactive component that allows local and global readerships to create literary memorials to those lost to COVID‑19 and to the families affected by the pandemic. The third objective is to engage scholars, students, writers, practitioners—and especially youths—in critical discourse regarding COVID-19, empowering the groups most affected by the pandemic.

I will pursue these objectives with a team of four collaborators, a postdoctoral fellow and four students who are already well versed in COVID‑19 narratives. The project will engage diverse audiences, both scholarly and non-scholarly, through the publication of a scholarly monograph and two collaborative collections of essays, a series of articles, a pandemic speakers webinar series along with training workshops and single-day symposia. We will thoroughly engage culturally diverse constituents through digital and print media, radio, and television forging local, national, and international dialogues. Ultimately, the research program will produce significant insights aiming to engage and empower those most affected by the pandemic—youths and women. Students and junior scholars will benefit through experiential training whereby trainees working across media and specialising in the literary responses to the pandemic will develop skills which uniquely prepare them for future research and employment opportunities across sectors. The research program itself will engage academic and non-academic audiences through mobilizing of COVID‑19 narratives.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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