Two GNV organizations launch pandemic book

The Matheson History Museum and Writers Alliance of Gainesville (WAG) officially launched its collaborative book on Thursday night about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Titled “Local Lives in a Global Pandemic: Stories from North Central Florida,” the book compiled poetry and essays from more than 50 contributors who spoke to their experiences, thoughts and ways of coping with the pandemic.

The project started with Matheson wanting to create an online COVID community archive, and WAG’s members writing about their experiences and sharing them with each other.

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Before long, the idea of a book emerged. The two organizations realized they could collaborate and the ball started rolling. The organizations reached out to contacts in different fields to gather input, and some community members had already sent writings to the Matheson for its archive.

Ronnie Lovler, an editor of the book and member of both organizations, said the organizations analyzed the gathered works and then tried reaching out to community members whose voice was missing—from age to ethnicity, students to doctors to politicians.

“We did the best we could to reach out,” said Lovler, who is also a Mainstreet Daily News contributor. “I mean we could have kept going on forever, but eventually we had to just stop.”

The project started in May of 2020 with a solid outline in place by mid-July with the hope to finish by the fall.

“Our big concern at the time, foolish as it sounds, was that it was taking us so long to get this done that by the time we got it done, COVID would have come and gone and nobody would care about it anymore,” Lovler said to the audience on Thursday.

Ronnie Lovler

Through connections, the organization approached UF Press about publishing. UF Press had the same concern. It would probably take too long to publish for the audience to still have interest.

Then the group approached Archway Publishing. One of the editors, Mallory O’Connor, had previously published five novels through the company.

Archway agreed and even gave the group a “returning author” discount because of its history with O’Connor. But publishing still came with costs.

Through a community grant from Satchel’s Pizza and help from the Gainesville Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, the organization pushed the project through.

Other complications arose, like getting all contributors to sign consent forms from the publisher—an experience O’Connor likened to herding cats—but the book finally hit the shelves in October.

After explaining how the book came to be, five contributors read their pieces to the audience. Topics ranged from how a child might understand the new social distancing reality to desires to hang out with friends and a humour essay about one couple that tried to stay home only to have a host of workers visit them because items kept breaking.

“I’m really proud of what we did,” Lovler said. “ I’m very proud that we put this together. It wasn’t easy, but it was so rewarding to be involved in something like this.”

In addition to Lovler and O’Connor, Charles R. Cobb from the Matheson and Pat Caren from WAG also served as editors for the project.

The book is available on Amazon as a paperback for $13.99 or an e-book for $2.99. The Matheson’s store also sells the book.

Contributors to the book who attended the launch

Editor’s note: This story has been updated. 

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