The Latina Book Club welcomes Thelma T. Reyna, editor, of the newly published WHEN THE VIRUS CAME CALLING. It's a heart-wrenching anthology that records the events Americans - and the world! - have been living and struggling with these past seven months. Some of the stories are hard to read, but all expose the havoc this disease has wrought and, most importantly, the resilience of people who refuse to be defeated.
A ground-breaking anthology of 46 distinguished American contemporary poets and prose writers, written in real time in the first half of the historic, devastating coronavirus COVID-19 invasion of America in 2020. In heart-wrenching, wide-eyed observations, firsthand events, tragedies, and reflections, these top authors document for us the horrors, grief, and heroism of friends, family, neighbors as we watched the disease unfold. Here are moments of hope and togetherness as well, seeking respite and balms. This gathering of Poets Laureate, national award winners, poet leaders, essayists, academics, and short fiction writers is a collection to treasure and a touchstone for generations to come.
Authors include the U.S. Inaugural Poet in 2013, Richard Blanco, who is one of today’s pre-eminent authors. Also, Peter J. Harris, who won the 2015 American Book Award and the 2015 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award; and Melinda Palacio, who won the 2012 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award. Visit Golden Foothills Press’ website for complete list of contributing authors: http://www.GoldenFoothillsPress.com.
Q&A WITH THELMA T. REYNA, EDITOR
Q: Briefly tell us the backstory of this book: what inspired you to do it?
THELMA REYNA: When our nation started hearing about this historic pandemic, and how virulent it was, I felt we needed to capture it with firsthand observations from the outset. I've long believed that poets are "first responders" to tragedy, upheavals, suffering. Poets capture the deep, inner details and emotions of catastrophes like nobody else can. I also knew that as history unfolded, there would be plenty of books down the line reflecting upon this pandemic, analyzing it, sharing descriptions and photos like a "post-game analysis." But to me, the importance of documenting this catastrophe was a real-time immediacy, as we were living it. I chose the first half-year of the outbreak because that's usually the most critical time. I wanted authors to take us through this novel event with this unprecedented virus, month by month, through their artistic lenses. I added prose writers whom I respected as well.
Q: A lot of folks are writing about the pandemic. What makes your book distinct from others on the topic?
THELMA: To my knowledge, based on online research, this is the only, or one of the few, print anthologies issued in Fall 2020 that focuses only on the U.S. experience and is edited by a Latina author/publisher. It’s purposely a curated anthology. I hand-selected 50 distinguished authors I know from across the U.S. to submit poetry and/or prose, and 45 did so. I also sought up-front a mix of diversity—ethnic, geographic, generational, gender, and sexual identity. It was important to me to include immigrants, children of immigrants, and authors in well-respected positions, such as Poets Laureate, academics, and “poet leaders” (event hosts, podcasters, group leaders, etc.). Most of the writers are award winners in various levels nationally, and many are multi-genre authors. I wanted that flexibility, that foundation of achievement.
Q: Since the pandemic is such a tragic topic, were you able to balance hopes and fears and give readers relief from their struggles?
THELMA: Thankfully, the talented, versatile authors accomplished that. Of the 120 pieces in the book (mostly poems, plus personal essays and two formal essays), authors touched upon nature as respite, family loyalty, duty toward others, romantic love, heroism, daily hope, and optimism for the post-pandemic world, among other themes.
Q: What insights or lessons do you want readers to receive from reading your book?
THELMA: The predominance of hope and perseverance in the human spirit. The realization (at last!) of who is truly “essential” in society. The power of family and collaboration. The enduring beauty and wisdom of poetry and other creative writing in understanding life. The absoluteness of science and depravity of political denial.
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ABOUT THE EDITOR THELMA T. REYNA: Thelma T. Reyna’s books have collectively won 16 national literary awards. She has written 6 books, and edited 3 anthologies including over 100 authors collectively. Her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction have appeared in literary journals, anthologies, textbooks, blogs, and regional media, print and online, for over 25 years. She was a Pushcart Prize Nominee in Poetry in 2017. She is owner/publisher at Golden Foothills Press in Pasadena, CA since 2016.
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