Image: csamhaber (Pixabay License / Pixabay)

Reading Pandemics: From Boccaccio to Indigenous Futurism

Join us -- at a safe distance -- on this journey through the canonical and radical as we look to literary representations of pandemics in the past to help us understand the politics and possibilities of the present COVID-19 pandemic.

Distance Remakes the Heart in Gabriel García Márquez’s ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’


Throughout Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez depicts love as an infectious disease. Must we quarantine from it?

Read Kristina Garcia’s article.

Parable Pandemics: Octavia E. Butler and Racialized Labor

Photo by Prince Akachi on Unsplash

Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, informed by a deep understanding of the intersectionality of dying ecologies, disease, and structural racism, exposes the ways capitalism’s insatiable hunger for profit eclipses humanitarian responses to pandemics.

Read Neil Huff’s article.

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Romeo kaj Julieto portretita de Frank Dicksee (1884) (Public Domain, Wikimedia)

Shakespeare’s well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.

Read Lauren Barry’s article.

AIDS Play ‘The Normal Heart’ Is a Guide During COVID-19 and Political Indifference

Screen capture from “Reagan Administration’s Chilling Response to the AIDS Crisis” (Vanity Fair via YouTube / stylized)

When national leadership isn’t addressing a pandemic as it should, Larry Kramer, as playwright and activist, pens the only viable response: “Everyone’s entitled to good medical care. If you’re not getting it, you’ve got to fight for it.”

Read Vicki Byard’s article.

Parallels of HIV/AIDS in Tony Kushner’s ‘Angels in America’ and COVID-19 in Trump’s America

Emma Thompson in HBO’s Angels in America (2003) (IMDB)

Tony Kushner’s Angels in America foreshadows our current state of sick politics and bodies and, in particular, the presence of Trump in a time of plague.

Read Timothy Barnett’s article.

Cookbooks and Contagion: Recipes for Caring from Fannie Farmer

The Boston Cooking School magazine of culinary science and domestic economics (1908) (No known copyright restrictions / Wikimedia)

Cookbooks are rarely read as political or even narrative texts. However, alongside the recipes and lists of ingredients is often rich information about the ideologies and social structures that the foods are consumed within.

Read Katelyn Juerjens’ article.

Pandemic from the Janitor’s Point of View

Photo by Oliver Hale (Unsplash License / Unsplash)

Timothy Sheard’s murder mystery One Foot in the Grave explores pandemic in a hospital from the point of view of the lowliest, aka “essential”, staff.

Read Tim Libretti’s article.

Chaucer’s Plague Tales

Photo by Kuma Kum (License / Unsplash)

In 18 months, the “Great Pestilence” of 1348-49 killed half of England’s population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer’s plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.

Read Kristen Over’s article.

Poe, Pandemic, and Underlying Conditions

Rose by Ri_Ya (Pixabay License / Pixabay)

To read Edgar Allan Poe in the time of pandemic, we need to appreciate a very different aspect of his perspective—not that of a mimetic artist but of the political economist.

Read Timothy Scherman’s article.

Taking a Page About Community and Responsibility from Albert Camus’ ‘The Plague’


Initially, the city of Oran does not take care of its most vulnerable populations in Camus’ The Plague, and as a result, the city suffers for it. This parallels today’s COVID-19 world.

Read Stephany Perez’s article.

What’s Love Got To Do with It? Shakespeare’s ‘Venus & Adonis’

Venus and Adonis by Titian (1554) (Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons)

The worn trope—Time Devours All Things (tempus edax rerum)—is true for human beings, says Shakespeare: if you’re a mortal, death lurks at the heart of the very thing you most want. During a plague, or a pandemic, it’s wanting that endangers us.

Read Bradley Greenburg’s article.

Pandemics and Trumpian Echoes in Miller’s ‘Blackfish City’


When we can’t turn to the federal government for the truth, sometimes we need to turn to fiction. Sam J. Miller’s Blackfish City maps a pandemic in America.

Read Megan Palm’s article.

Why Boccaccio’s ‘The Decameron’ Can Help Guide Us Through COVID-19

Portrait by Raffaello Sanzio Morghen – Sumner, Charles (1875) The Best Portraits in Engraving (5th ed.), New York City: Keppel & Co. OCLC: 17144657 (Public Domain / Wikipedia)

Rather than write about death and the world unfolding in the throes of the Black Plague, Giovanni Boccaccio instead wrote about the utopian potential of storytelling.

Read Ryan Poll’s article.

Related Series: Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Image by TheDigitalArtist (Pixabay License / Pixabay)

#Coronavirus #COVID19 #Pandemic: Love in the Time of Coronavirus is a new and hopefully short-run PopMatters series of art and life and the art of living in these times of global health crisis.

Click here for the Love in the Time of Coronavirus special feature.

Throughout this summer of the COVID-19 pandemic, faculty and students of the English Department at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) will analyze how pandemics are represented in literature across centuries, across genres, and across nation-states. This series will begin historically with Boccaccio, and wend its way through Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Poe, before opening up to consider how diverse authors represent and wrestle with the crises of pandemics, including Indigenous authors, African American authors, Latinx authors, Asian American authors, and queer authors.

How, for example, does Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower narrate neo-slavery through the prism of a pandemic? How does Romeo and Juliet become a different text once read through the prism of the Plague Orders of Elizabethan England? How do contemporary Indigenous authors make explicit that pandemics are not irruptions into the norm, but rather, should be understood as the norm of colonial capitalism?

Join us on this journey through the canonical and radical as we look to literary representations of pandemics in the past to help us understand the politics and possibilities of the present.

This series is edited by NEIU Assistant Professor, Ryan Poll.

* * *

Note: PopMatters does not exclude readers with a paywall. So please, don’t ad block. If you’re not seeing ads as you enjoy this magazine, type “How to whitelist website” in your browser and follow the instructions. Thank you.