Writing and Covid-19: Books are Essential in Times of Crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic is the most unprecedented story for authors across the world. If Covid was human, vaccines were plots, and lockdowns were characters, the pandemic is the most intriguing story to be ever written in books because it has not only a direct impact on the daily and private lives, health and the ways people interact — but also on the working situation of authors and writers in the literary sector.
In Africa, particularly West Africa, many authors encountered economic fall-out, loss of fees and lack of needed exposure. While Nigeria still remains Africa’s most vibrant literary hub, authors were seriously affected during the COVID-19 pandemic by working from home and faced inaccessibility to research facilities.
“From an author point of view, it is probably one of the biggest pandemics in human history,” says Prof. Chinedum Igwe, Executive Director, International Association of African Authors and Scholars (IAAAS), Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
The African book industry will have to deal with a great shift, after more and more bookshops had been closed and some of them never even opened again, the publishing houses postponed or canceled titles. Several cultural institutions — libraries, theaters, small sized event organizers — also have to deal with losses, will close or lower the budget in general for cultural events.
In countries like The Gambia with a very low literacy rate and poor readership, authors suffered great financial losses due to cancellation of events and having low sales of their books.
There was no book launch for nearly one year and events, readings (especially in schools, libraries, cultural institutions and bookshops), award ceremonies, book fairs, workshops, lectures and residency-scholarships were canceled. The situation quickly threatened the existence of many writers and authors.
While many authors work from home during the pandemic, many have no other choice but to publish articles in local newspapers. In The Gambia, the local newspapers, notably The Standard Newspaper, Foroyaa Newspaper, The Voice Newspaper and The Point have published dozens of articles from authors during lockdowns. Many of them believe that COVID-19 has made literary strikes to compel them into writing new books during lockdowns.
“I have not written a new book since the lockdown. A writer’s job is of course to write what makes the stories of human life, and to do so, you have to keep writing,” explains Lamin B. Fatty, a young Gambian author.
For Ms. AZEB YOSEPH AMBACHEW, the Founder and Executive Director of ONE AFRICA PEN WARRIORS FOR DEVELOPMENT ORGANIZATION (OAPWOD), an organization established in December 2019, Covid-19 has mostly affected women writers in Ethiopia. The organization is dealing with African history, culture, indigenous languages, democracy, unity and Identity. It strongly opposes migration. This organization has a plan to discuss the root causes of migration and how to especially save Africa’s youthful population to stop thinking about migration.
“When we are talking about the impacts of COVID -19, we should remember that it has created major economic crises on our industrial and agricultural activities. If I am not mistaken, COVID-19 hit Ethiopia on the 13th of March 2020 while the executive and regular members of my organization started working on promoting its vision and mission in a very organized way,’’ says Azeb Yoseph Ambachew. The diversity of books and culture is in real danger because of the COVID-19 effects on the economy.
The COVID-19 pandemic affected the African writing workforce in many ways. Many worried that stay-at-home grants would proportionately enhance the productivity and well-being of African writers, including women and early-career authors, who were expected to shoulder more on writers residencies and or grants. However, West African writers are still yet to adequately address the development and technology behind the different vaccines that have been released and that are being created. They are yet to also address the acquisition and distribution of vaccines globally, including “vaccine nationalism” and questions of equity. Award-winning Gambian author, Modou Lamin Age-Almusaf Sowe, is trying to show how the vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccination activism, as well as misinformation and disinformation against vaccines immunity, community masking and social distancing measures, as well as emerging variants are issues in West Africa.