Unlikely events can trigger great publications. The New York Review of Books was born in the midst of the 1962 New York newspaper strike that devastated book reviews. The horrors and dislocations of Covid-19 gave rise to a fledgling online publication with modest resources and great literary ambitions. The result has been the admirable Journal of a Plague Year that I read avidly for its sharp insights and graceful writing about the strangest days of our lives.
— Walter Shapiro, who is covering his 11th presidential campaign for The New Republic and is also a lecturer in political science at Yale.
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I’ve been reading Susan Zakin’s Journal of the Plague Year with pleasure and relief. Pleasure because of the deft editorial mix that, matching story to form, brings together switchblade journalism, lyric musings, hot personal takes, and street anthropology, with a healthy dose of deep black humor, to address this strange time we’re living through. But with the pleasure also comes relief. Without realizing it, I’d been waiting for someone of a sensibility quick enough and responsive enough to see that our newly at-risk culture needs new voices to speak about it in fresh ways. Susan Zakin is that person. I would read anything she puts before me. I urge others to do the same.
— Ted Mooney, author of four novels, including Easy Travel to Other Planets and The Same River Twice, writer for Esquire, Granta, and former senior editor of Art in America magazine.
Just as London received its imperishable account of the 1665 bubonic epidemic in Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, America—besieged presently by the coronavirus pandemic—calls out for the same, and that need is being addressed in immediate writing that will also prove imperishable. But whereas Defoe’s chronicle didn’t appear until nearly 60 years after the contagion, the website Journal of the Plague Year is in the here and now, and it is proving inspired and imperative. Also multidimensional, because this is a time of concurrent plagues: illness and death, virulent racism, toxic and indifferent leadership, and lethal and ignorant reaction. As the site tells us, these are not reassuring times, but when trouble comes you either meet the moment or you become one with the trouble. The site’s writing isn’t only exigent in our moment, it is also making for an historic record that needs to be preserved. Because someday people will look back on this time, as America decides whether it is a failed state or not, and they will need witnesses who did their best to make sense of an insensible time. Journal of the Plague Year is among our most vital witnesses. —Mikal Gilmore, author of the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning memoir Shot in the Heart, and the 1960s cultural history Stories Done; longtime writer for Rolling Stone.” “Sometimes, American ingenuity responds creatively to crises. And, thus, from the ashes we have the phoenix of Susan Zakin's Journal of the Plague Year, which contains some of the most perceptive, darkly funny and artful writing about the terrible pandemic that has befallen our world. The journal is one of the few bright lights I look forward to reading in our gloomy new normal.” -- David Talbot, founder of Salon, author of the New York Times bestsellers The Devil's Chessboard and Brothers and the national bestseller, Season of the Witch. Just when the world needed a cure, Journal of the Plague Year arrived with an antidote for intellectual torpor and moral squalor. Trenchant and funny, urgent yet literary, this upstart of a magazine, already compiling an impressive audience, fills an absent niche in the literary ecosystem and provides a much-needed platform for the sort of work that challenges the mind and nourishes the soul.” — J.C. Hallman, author of six books, including The Devil is a Gentleman and The Hospital for Bad Poets. He is a frequent contributor to Harper’s, The New Republic, and The Baffler.