Dear Friends of the Cheuse Center—
Last week, George Mason returned to the “classroom” after a two-week spring break due to the coronavirus pandemic. All of our classes will be conducted online, and all university events have been canceled or postponed for the duration of the spring semester.
For us at the Cheuse Center, this means our spring calendar will be put on hold. We had planned to welcome the great Palestinian poet Najwan Darwish for a residency this spring, with events at Mason, in Washington, D.C., and at the Annapolis Book Festival. Though we are saddened at the cancelation of Najwan’s residency, we are hopeful that we will welcome him next year. In the meantime, please take a moment to read several of Najwan’s poems at the Poetry Foundation.
Speaking of reading, I have been struck by the proliferation of lists being published that identify a “Quarantine Reader.” Many of these lists are about works of fiction and nonfiction that reflect our current moment of living in a pandemic. One of my favorites of these oft-mentioned books is David Quammen’s Spillover, a hypnotic and intelligent work of science journalism that explores zoonotic diseases—those that move from animal to human—and how we as humans are primarily responsible for these spillovers.
These quarantine readers not only reflect our existence in the greatest public health crisis any of us have ever lived through or witnessed. They also reflect the role literature can play in dire times like these. We at the Cheuse Center have long advocated and believed that literature and art are vital means for accessing and understanding a shared human experience. As we all sink into social distancing, physically away from one another, one of the possible balms of this isolation can be great works of literature.
Whether it’s music from Italian balconies, the clapping of Madridians in appreciation of their health care workers, or the increased use of FaceTime to connect with friends and relatives in different states or countries, our isolation has revealed the desire for community. I hope you will continue to support the international literary community by buying books from your local, independent bookstore; reading those books; and supporting the many literary organizations across the world whose important work and programs have been interrupted by the coronavirus.
Though Cheuse Center events are canceled, our work is not. Next week, I will announce our 2020 Cheuse Center Fellows for International Research. Given the current international climate, we are unsure whether their trips will occur this summer. Yet, these three talented MFA students deserve our recognition. And they will have our support when international travel and research is once again safe.
Thinking about all of you in these unprecedented times. Keep safe and healthy!
Founding Director of the Alan Cheuse International Writers Center
March 30, 2020