Library exhibit creates ‘literary snapshot’ of pandemic

Authors’ short stories involving the pandemic hang on display on the Harold B. Lee Library third floor. The exhibit is meant to bring a sense of hope and connection to readers using all genres and perspectives. (Addie Blacker)

Authors, curators and designers collaborated to create a display of pandemic-related short stories on the main level of the BYU Harold B. Lee Library.

The exhibit is called “A Desolating Sickness: Stories of Pandemic,” and short stories written by Church members hang from the ceiling on panels. Exhibit curator Trevor Alvord described the display as a “literary snapshot” of the COVID-19 pandemic and its role in history. The curators hoped readers would feel connected to history and others despite times of isolation.

The stories in the exhibit span all genres from historical fiction to fantasy. Exhibit curator Dainan Skeem said having all kinds of stories added to the fun of the display.

“It was fun to write about a story in the genre that you already write in, with a pandemic spin on it,” he said.

Aside from diverse genres, Skeem said the exhibit represents both male and female authors. The authors also vary in political perspectives, but the pandemic was the one factor that tied all the stories together.

Exhibit creators hoped people would read the stories and feel connected to history. Library communications manager Roger Layton said the exhibit was inspired partly by “The Decameron,” a collection of stories about people hiding from the Black Plague.

“People are all in a panic right now about the pandemic, and rightly so, but this is something that people have gone through for generations,” Layton said. “We’re kind of having a shared experience with people from centuries ago.”

Exhibit curator and author Christopher McAfee said he felt connected not just to history, but also to others going through the current pandemic. He said many of the exhibit’s stories were unifying.

“A lot of the stories made me feel like I was not alone in my feelings,” he said. “I found myself in tears several times as I was reading the stories.”

BYU alumnus David Butler wrote one of the short stories. He said he hopes as students and faculty read the stories between classes they feel a sense of connection despite social distancing restrictions.

“I think the real casualty of 2020 is community,” Butler said, adding that it was wonderful to see authors dialoguing about their feelings to make connections with each other.

Even the display’s design was meant to convey a message of hope. Exhibit designer Eric Howard said his biggest challenge was creating an attractive display made up entirely of words. He applied a warm color scheme to the exhibit with subtle images behind the text on each panel.

Howard said he hoped to draw people in and help them learn something positive from the pandemic. “I wanted to of course convey pandemic, but I didn’t want grey and dismal.”

The exhibit’s short stories are also available on the library website. Soon the website will have interviews with the authors and audiobook versions of the stories.

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