Still Here

April 28, 2020 § 27 Comments

By Kristen Paulson-Nguyen

I was due to receive an award at the Boston Public Library on March 21. As I was fantasizing about my 15 minutes of fame, the organizer canceled the ceremony. I felt devastated, but I’m not alone. Other writers have contended with delayed publication dates, and worse, their book tours vanishing due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The words of Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh galvanized me: “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence.” Slowly, I’ve discovered new ways to show up.

Here are some ways to be present, for other authors and your own work, during this crisis:

  • Wave to a writer or send bouquets of hearts on Instagram during a Live gathering hosted by your favorite literary magazine.
  • Attend or hold a virtual reading.
  • Take a course. Multiple companies are offering deep discounts and scholarships and/or using courses as charitable vehicles. One editor pledged 50% of tuition to U.S. hunger-relief organization Feeding America.
  • Help someone with a book proposal.
  • Retweet others’ good news to share it with your followers. (Type “RT” at the beginning of a Tweet to indicate you’re re-posting someone else’s content.)
  • Hold your book club online. Invite your chosen book’s author to speak.
  • Shop on As of April 20, Bookshop has raised $788,837.85 for local independent bookstores.
  • Invite a writer to appear on your podcast.
  • Organize a Twitter follow-back thread.
  • Compliment another writer’s work—especially somebody you don’t know.
  • Take the time to read essays online. Add a comment, a clap, a star, a thank-you.
  • Attend a virtual book launch.
  • Post a Goodreads review of a friend or stranger’s book.
  • Hold an Instagram benefit.
  • Read another writer’s first draft.
  • Encourage a less-experienced writer.
  • Thank a mentor for their support.
  • Volunteer to be a first- or second-pass reader for a local writing program.
  • Express sympathetic joy by congratulating a writer.
  • Search GoFundMe for bookstores that need help.
  • Share best practices and tips for Zoom.

The March 21 award ceremony, the BPL notified me, would now be held online on May 2. I wouldn’t get to meet judge Porsha Olayiwola as I’d hoped, but I would still read and discuss my work. I organized a Twitter follow-back for the alumni of my writing program. I kept writing at home, although my family was around more often, and my schedule now included homeschooling our 10-year-old daughter.

One early evening, my husband Vinh walked into our bedroom. I called from my supine position, “Hey, who wants to go to an Instagram Live literary reading with me?” He didn’t seem to have heard me. He went downstairs. At bedtime, Vinh, an amateur magician, returned to read Hiding the Elephant, a history of conjurers.

“Hey,” he said. “You should write a book that reveals magic secrets.”

“You wish,” I said. I know he’d like to disappear from my memoir-in-progress. We had a good laugh.

Some things, it seems, never change.

Add a link in the comments below to let the literary community know about an event or cause you cherish.


Kristen Paulson-Nguyen is the Writing Life Editor at Hippocampus Magazine. Her work is forthcoming in The New York Times. Her flash nonfiction, “Neighbors,” won an award from Boston in 100 Words. Join her on the Boston Library’s Facebook Live May 2 to hear her read and discuss her work.

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