'Alone Together' Anthology Brings Us Together in COVID-19

Editor Jennifer Haupt explores family, sex, grief, and more during the pandemic.

Posted Sep 01, 2020

 Jennifer Haupt, used with permission
The book you need during COVID-19.
Source: Jennifer Haupt, used with permission

The pandemic has isolated us and changed everything about our world except perhaps the fact that we're human, that we still need to reach each out to one another for connection and comfort.

Jennifer Haupt pulled together 90 (!!) authors to contribute to Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of COVID-19, a diverse collection of essays, poetry, and interviews that takes a timely look at what we are still going through as individuals and a society. Funny, hopeful, and touching, this is an array of stories that provides perspective and comfort and all profits benefit the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc)! I'm so proud that my essay, about estrangement from a sibling during COVID, is part of this collection. And I'm even prouder that I got to interview Jennifer!

First, tell us how this extraordinary endeavor came together?

Jennifer Haupt: By early April, it was clear this virus wasn't going away anytime soon, and I was feeling extremely isolated. It didn't help that my dear husband was now working in the basement and my 27-year-old son was parked on the living room sofa, now unable to finish the six weeks of fieldwork necessary to earn his degree in occupational therapy. I love them both, but I needed more than family. I craved community.

I also had the overwhelming need to do something positive during an incredibly negative time in our country. I had felt powerless for a long time, way before the pandemic hit. Our country was changing—not in good ways. People were splintering into tribes; "do unto others," it seemed, had become as often a slight as an act of compassion. I knew that independent bookstores were struggling during the pandemic shut-down, so I asked the publisher of my first novel, In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills, if she would consider publishing a fund-raising anthology to help bookstores in need. To my surprise, she said, "Yes!"

And how quickly did this snowball into not just a book, but a really important global movement?

JH: I know a lot of authors through my years as a journalist, book reviewer, and blogger for Psychology Today. (My "One True Thing" blog https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/one-true-thing features interviews with and essays by authors.) So, I started by asking authors I knew—you, Dani Shapiro, Lidia Yuknavitch, Gina Frangello, Jean Kwok, Jamie Ford, Jena Blum—to contribute an essay or poem. It turned out, other authors were also feeling isolated and powerless like I was, and wanting to do something positive. I received such positive responses, that I reached out to authors I didn't know but admired: Luis Alberto Urrea, Nikki Giovanni, Major Jackson, Kwame Alexander.

Within two weeks, there were ninety authors involved. My publisher and her book distributor stepped up to donate their services, as well as the publishing trade publications. Foreign rights were sold to publishers in other countries that wanted to support their bookstores. It really has become a movement to share our stories and share our power of creating something positive.

Alone Together is such a perfect—and haunting—title for the book. Because we, as humans, need to connect and bond, and yet, we were sequestered in homes for months. Did you have other titles you were thinking about?

JH: This one was suggested by Laura Stanfill, who is the publisher at Forest Avenue Publishing and contributed a gorgeous essay to the collection. It resonated with me immediately because I felt like my husband, my son, and I were all alone together in our home. We're very close, along with my other son who lives not far away, but we were also going through our own individual pain and fears.

How did you go about choosing the essays? And how did you go about shaping the book itself?

JH: I knew that everyone I requested pieces from would give me something to build the heart and soul of my "lovely monster," as I called this book at the beginning of the creative process. I rejected very few essays, a few more poems. But mostly, it all fit together—really, it was almost magical how quickly this book did come together. It was inspiring and hopeful how generous you and the rest of the authors were. We all had a common goal of helping the bookstores that had supported our books and careers over the years.

As for the shape of the book, I knew I wanted to create a story arc like a novel. And, I knew the four interviews I was conducting with Kwame Alexander, Luis Urrea, David Sheff, and Dani Shapiro would shape the sections. I had collected about 60 essays when the different sections became clear: What Now?; Love; Grieve; Connect; and Don't Stop!

I think it must feel amazing to know that you are putting out so much good and kindness in the world. You really are a true writer/citizen of the world. Proceeds go to indie bookstores, who are struggling, but more than that, it is helping so many people to feel they are not alone, that someone else might be going through what they are going through, or approaching something differently.
Now that the book is a book and racking up rave reviews from the likes of The Washington Post , I personally am thinking this would make an excellent TV series for everyone to stream. Have you thought about that?

JH: No, but now I am!

What’s obsessing you now—besides the world situation (is there anything else?) and why?

JH: I am, of course, obsessed with the presidential election. I'm cautiously hopeful that people will get out and vote, our country will bond together as Americans and save democracy. I'm so passionate about independent bookstores because they really are pillars of our democratic society, giving us places (along with libraries!) to meet and freely discuss ideas.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

JH: I hope readers will get comfort and hope, and also a sense of empowerment. There's so much we don't have control over now, and yet there's also a lot we can control.

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

JH: Keep writing. Don't let anyone take away your power.

Jennifer Haupt is the editor/curator of Alone Together: Stories of Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of COVID-19. Haupt's essays and articles have been published in O, The Oprah Magazine, Parenting, The Rumpus, Spirituality & Health, The Sun and many other publications. She also curates the popular Psychology Today blog, "One True Thing," a collection of essays and interviews for authors and readers. Her debut novel, In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills was awarded the Foreword Reviews Bronze Indie Award for Historical Fiction. Haupt lives in Seattle, and teaches at Hugo House and elsewhere.