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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.
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.
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.
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.