Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Virus Voices: Local author edits collection of pandemic-related stories

Writer and Harrisburg University professor, Robert E. Furey, writes in his story titled “Ouroboros” that “… a monster slouched into the awareness of our lives. They told us it was coming.”

The “monster” is COVID-19 and is the focus of “Voices From The Pandemic,” a recently published anthology written by healthcare workers, educators, writers, entertainers and others.

“The pandemic affected everyone’s lives in such a severe way,” said Cathy Teets, president of Headline Books, publisher of “Voices From The Pandemic.” “I wanted to hear personal stories from all ages, all occupations. A collection of these personal stories preserves this selected period of time much as a personal diary, journal or letters home will do.”

It’s not only adults who reveal their pandemic memories. The book has a special section with stories by a group of sixth-graders whose essays were part of a summer social studies assignment. All of them can now claim the title of “published writer.” One of them, Rilee Ruggles, writes, “My life in quarantine was kind of, well, awful but also good in a way.”

Yes, even a sixth-grader has a compelling personal story to tell.

“Memoir has the emotions, motivations, thoughts and fears of the period, as well as the facts,” said Lancaster-based author Don Helin, editor of “Voices From The Pandemic.” “History books are important, but they do not feature the underlying emotions and excitement.”

For publisher and editor, one of the first orders of business was what to choose from the more than 100 submissions received. Teets and Helin made selections based on story-telling abilities and the desire to include a variety of professions and life situations to give a broad view of the effect of the pandemic on society. One of Helin’s favorites was “When the Music Stops” by Joe Coleman, who was a member of the musical group, The Platters, for 23 years.

“I personally felt his story,” Helin said. “I feel his pain because all of my book tours were cancelled.”

And for Teets it was the stories that told of personal crises like death of a family member as written by F.T Pandora in “Not What We Expected” and cancer diagnosis and treatment obstacles in the heart-wrenching “Cancer and Covid” by Ellen Still. But not all the stories in the collection are on the serious side.

“I also thought “Covid Schmovid—Let’s Fish” by Rick Robinson showed how humor is always a lifeline through difficult times,” Teets said.

The care and consideration given to “Voices From The Pandemic” was worth it. The book received an honorable mention at the New York Book Festival.

“We were so excited with this award and honored to be noticed in such a competition,” Teets said. “I felt all the contributors deserved this wonderful award for their efforts of recording a slice of their personal history.”

Readers will certainly see their own personal pandemic journeys reflected on these pages. They will relate to the hint that something is askew as in Furey’s memoir, “Ouroboros,” about journeying through whiteout conditions and over heart-stopping cliffs in Utah and Colorado with a field studies class just as the COVID “monster” was exiting from the shadows.

“Skipping from Triassic extinction events of unknown cause to us, naïve and feeling safe in the confined space of a 27-foot RV, seems to feel like the right way to show we didn’t really know what was coming,” Furey recalled. “Joey, who was sick and didn’t tell us, only made the point for me.”

Readers will feel the frustration that contributor and retired doctor Janet Cincotta of Mechanicsburg recounts in her story “Until This, Until Now,” and that is of having the skills to help but unable to because of being high risk for COVID.

“It is torture for me not to be able to join my colleagues and friends on the front lines against this disease,” she said. “I ache for them. I know what it feels like to have to work without sleep, to miss meals, to put yourself at risk in order to care for patients under the best of circumstances. I appreciated the opportunity to speak out (in the book) from a slightly different perspective on the pandemic, as a frustrated observer, as a person whose lifestyle has not been deeply affected by the pandemic that is raging around me, and as a parent and grandparent.”

According to Helin, many who submitted memoirs to the collection had attended Zoom workshops sponsored by the Perry County Council of the Arts (PCCA). From Jan. 13 to June 9, another round of monthly Zoom memoir workshops is scheduled for Wednesdays from 5 to 8 p.m. For details, visit www.perrycountyarts,org/a-novel-idea.

“Voices From The Pandemic” is available at online booksellers and at the PCCA Gallery, 1 S. 2nd St., Newport.

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