Schools may be closed but, at Pandemic University, class is in session. On April 13, Omar Mouallem, a freelance journalist for the New Yorker and Rolling Stone based in Edmonton, announced the online writing school. Within 24 hours, the 14 courses had reached 30 per cent of their capacity of 100 students. Courses run between April 20 and May 29 with the possibility of a summer session if self-isolation recommendations continue (Mouallem encourages interested writing instructors to apply).
The spring session’s instructors include authors Ayelet Tsabari (The Art of Leaving), Marcello Di Cintio (Pay No Heed to the Rockets: Palestine in the Present Tense), and Michael Hingston (Let’s Go Exploring: Calvin and Hobbes). Courses include practical strategies for navigating the writing landscape, such as Hingston’s 90-minute crash course on how to write a non-fiction book proposal, but Mouallem senses people are enrolling for more personal reasons as well. The highest enrollment as of April 14 was for reporter Christina Frangou’s course on writing about trauma. “Right now there is a lot of unease and worry and they want to channel it in a productive way,” Mouallem says.
While the program is meant to offer income for writers who have lost opportunities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mouallem also sees it as promoting good mental health, both for the teachers and the students. “Creativity is important to us,” he says. “It’s like exercise. It’s one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves. I don’t want to put too much of a silver lining on this pandemic but the truth is that sometimes you do need time to stop in order to rethink what’s important to you.”