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artists
The Philadelphia Orchestra plays to an empty hall. COURTESY MANUEL NAGELI ON UNSPLASH

By MELISSA D. SULLIVAN
For Montclair Local

“All Write Now” reflects the writing life. Melissa D. Sullivan is an attorney by day, writer by

artists
MELISSA D. SULLIVAN

night, mother of two and a 2019 Pushcart Prize Nominee. Melissa’s most recent short story can be found in “The Jersey Devil: A Collection of Utter Speculation,” released March 2020. She splits her time between Montclair and Bucks County, PA. You can learn more at melissadsullivan.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @MelDSullivan.

Let me tell you up front that this is not an article about COVID-19, my attempts to home-school my children or any overarching political or economic policies that may or may not have led us to this precarious time in our nation’s history.

“I feel like I’ve been having the same conversation every day,” someone said to me this week.

I know, I wanted to say, and this is not the March I had initially pictured for 2020.

You see, my book came out about a week ago.

For the past six months, I had been working with four other writers on a short story anthology, trading story ideas and giving each other feedback.  After deciding that the stories were the best they were going to be, we sent them off to our editor and started planning the book’s launch, including a swanky release party at a local bar. After several rounds of proofing and a few non-violent battles with Amazon and the US mail system, “The Jersey Devil: A Collection of Utter Speculation” was released March 10 with a great deal of enthusiasm and not a little gratefulness. 

The next day, the world fell apart.

Within a day or so, we made the hard choice to cancel the release party, which was disappointing, of course, but completely correct.  Soon after, our local government ordered all schools and non-essential businesses closed. Any gatherings of more than 50 people were highly discouraged.

The release of “The Jersey Devil” (available now for social distancing delivery on Amazon) was postponed indefinitely.

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READ: COVID-19; VIRTUAL OPTIONS IN ARTS AND CULTURE

READ: ALL WRITE NOW; THE OTHER PARTS OF WRITING

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I am far from the only artist who has had their plans disrupted by our national health emergency. Hugo and Nebula-award winning science fiction writer and all around badass N.K. Jeminsin cancelled her book tour, saying that she may have been exposed already. The Tribecca Film Festival was postponed to some future date. The Philadelphia Orchestra cancelled all of its rehearsals and performances through the beginning of April after the city prohibited all gatherings of 1,000 or more people.  The world seemed like it was grinding to a silent and terrible end.

But then strange, beautiful things started happening.

Artists began to use their social media presences to help members of their communities whose livelihoods were affected by the new world order, even if they didn’t know them in person. Bridgid Kemmerer, a New York Times bestselling author, offered to tweet out any authors debuting in March to her 11 thousand followers. In the face of so many conference cancellations, the kidlit community quickly organized the Everywhere Book Fest, where online panels will connect writers and booksellers. Other writers urged their followers to buy books from independent bookstores, many of which started offering curbside pick up.

Then, the artists started to go wider, offering their services to the public for free. Yo-Yo Ma started a series of Twitter cello concerts from his home under the hashtag #songsofcomfort.  Children’s author and illustrator Mo Willems launched a free livestream series where, every lunchtime, kids can join him in his “studio” for doodling and writing. The Philadelphia Orchestra played Beethoven’s Fifth and Sixth Symphonies to an empty concert hall on Facebook live, and by the end of the performance, over five thousand people were watching.

The Kimmel Center, the Philly Orchestra’s home turf, can usually seat only three thousand.

It was breathtaking to see. All across the internet and the nation, writers, musicians and artists were offering their support to each other and then sharing their work with the public.  As I watched the feeds over the week, I couldn’t help but be heartened by the idea that, no matter what the next weeks or even months would bring, we would get through it all together.

So this is not an article about COVID-19.  This is an article thanking all of the artists out there who are still sharing their creations, even though the world is a scary and uncertain place.  

Because now is when we all need a little light in our lives, and art is always that.

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