With the world coming to a standstill to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, one Turnstone Press author has created a virtual platform to bring the arts to the online global community. Lauren Carter is the creator of the Pandemic Response Reading Series and sat down to tell us more about her work and this new online initiative.
Lauren, you were quick to jump to action by establishing the Pandemic Reading Response Series which will now be generously hosting two of our launches (Joanna Lilley’s Endlings and Sarah Ens’ The World Is Mostly Sky) among others. Why did you feel it was important to establish a full-on reading series?
I started the Pandemic Response Reading Series because I thought it was really important for writers who have spring books out this year to have a chance to share their books and to connect with readers. As a writer myself, the process of launching a book has been so important to me because it enables you to come out of the isolation of writing for so many years and to celebrate the book and really acknowledge and enjoy all the work and effort that went into creating it, and I felt so much empathy for those writers who wouldn't be able to do that. The name "Pandemic Response Reading Series" popped into my head as a kind of play on how we address a pandemic; "pandemic response" is a bit of a clinical term but I think creatively and artistically and societally and culturally there is a need to respond to a pandemic in positive ways that support community.
What do you hope to accomplish with the series, and do you see it having a place still once we resume to more “regular” activities?
I’m not sure anymore what ‘regular’ will look like… but, yes, I do certainly think that there will be a place for doing more online events. For one thing, we can continue this way in order to come together and save carbon as we address the continuing climate change crisis.
I’ve also heard from a few people who live with disabilities about how great it’s been for them to be able to attend launches and take part in events so for that reason alone it’d be great to keep this going.
In terms of what I hope to accomplish: do my part to help maintain the cohesive threads of community and help writers, booksellers, publishers sell some good books.
What is the best way for readers to access the books featured in your series?
Please, please, buy local! Our independent booksellers do so much to support small and medium-sized publishers and authors. McNally Robinson in Winnipeg and Saskatoon does tons to help authors with events like the launches that we are trying to now replicate online (minus CAKE, of course!).
McNally does deliver so I would encourage people to buy from them. Or, check out the Google map that shows independent booksellers across the country and specifies whether or not they are delivering or doing curbside pickup. Both of these links can be found on the reading series webpage, at the end of each event listing: www.laurencarter.ca/prrs
During this time of social isolation, what do you think the role of art is?
It has been amazing to see so many artists rushing in to offer free concerts, drawing lessons, writing sessions, and everything else. Art is what we’ve always turned towards to connect with our humanity, remember our resilience, express ourselves, and find and fuel empathy and compassion for others.
I have also been leading livestreamed 20-minute writing sessions through my Facebook group Write Ramble where I offer a prompt and then sit and write for 20 minutes. This simple act has kept me so grounded, even when my mind is so full of terrible news that I can barely do anything but describe the weather, and lots of others who take part have said the same thing.
As a writer yourself--last year you released two books, Following Sea and This Has Nothing To Do With You (Free Hand Books)—how do you find your own creativity has been impacted by current events?
My creativity is often a realm of chaos, unless I’m deeply immersed in a project and focused on a singular thing. But I have been working on a new collection of poetry so I’m trying to stay attentive to that and, luckily, it’s about themes that will remain relevant no matter what the world ends up looking like after we are released from this first lockdown (grief and finding solace in the natural world, mainly).
Think back to the “Pre-Covid Days.” What would you say were your favourite aspects about each form you work with – poetry and prose. And now? Does the appeal still hold true?
Well, my first novel, Swarm, a coming of age story set within economic collapse and the subsequent subsistence lifestyle has, of course, been echoing for me a lot lately.
I wrote that story during the start of the great recession of 2008. At that time, I used fiction to imagine how things might look should all the most dire possibilities about peak oil come true while also examining the personal shift from the prosperous, privileged position of ‘getting everything we want’ to facing a harder life. This current situation feels worse to me, and I don’t know if that’s because I’m older or what, but these days I don’t really want to write about end times.
My sister is a nurse and, although she does not work in a COVID unit, I’m afraid for her, and my mother is extremely isolated and in the age bracket of those who would be hardest hit by COVID and starting to feel the echoes of lockdown trauma. Even though I’m also extremely lucky to be very safe, these personal realities - not to mention my astonishment at watching the reactions of some people in the U.S. who seem to be entrenched in the idea that “it can’t happen to me” – are wearing and have led me to focus more on poetry than fiction.
When reality is stranger than fiction, poetry is the thing that helps to make sense of the world to me, so that’s what I’m mainly writing. Still, I am noodling around with some stories, but nothing seems to really be sticking. It just feels good to write, even if it is sometimes seemingly aimless (whatever ‘aimless’ means in creative process… because I don’t really believe that anything is actually aimless).
Inspiration is vital during these challenging times. What do you find inspiring these days?
Knitting. I’ve taken this time to finally add sock knitting to my knitting hobby.
Gardening. I have been putting into action some long-discussed plans like starting to create a prairie garden and have been tending my vegetable garden seedlings.
Poetry. About all I can write lately, and I’ve started talking a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) called Modern & Contemporary American Poetry and am currently reading and studying a bit of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.
Listen to Lauren reading from her latest poetry collection, Following Sea, here.
To register to attend any of the upcoming author events at the Pandemic Response Reading Series, please visit: https://laurencarter.ca/prrs/