'Alone Together'

‘Alone Together’ is edited by Jennifer Haupt.

The holidays have a whole different feel this year.

For Thanksgiving, abiding by public health guidelines for the coronavirus, my husband and I ate Thai takeout that we’d picked up the day before, and Zoomed with our far-flung family.

Our grown kids can’t come home for Christmas either so we’ll put together a care package of home-baked cookies and some ornaments from the family Christmas stash that they can decorate their own trees with. We’ve also shared photos of lights we’ve put up to brighten these darkest days of a particularly dark year.

In other words, we’re figuring out how to celebrate alone — together.

That’s also the sentiment of a worthwhile new anthology that was recently published — “Alone Together” by Seattle-based novelist Jennifer Haupt.

Last spring, Haupt put out a call to fellow writers to contribute short pieces for a project to benefit independent booksellers. For Haupt, independent bookstores are places of solace and inspiration. They serve as mainstays in neighborhoods. But pandemic-related shutdowns have hit them hard this year.

Haupt wanted to create an anthology that offered comfort and connection to readers, while book sale proceeds would go to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation — which provides financial help to booksellers struggling with utility bills, eviction prevention and medical expenses.

The response to Haupt’s call was so enthusiastic — 91 authors wanted to participate — that she ended up creating different bundles of stories. The paperback version of “Alone Together” showcases the work of 69 authors. Another 22 writers are featured in e-book and audio iterations.

By the end of September, the anthology was compiled, edited, published and ready for sale. It includes short stories, essays, poems and interviews that deal with the emotions and coping strategies that authors have experienced during the coronavirus pandemic.

Writers from around the country participated, including some talented Pacific Northwest contributors like Seattle artist Ailsa Wienewski, whose winsome illustrations give a lift to heavy topics.

Laura Stanfill, publisher of Portland’s Forest Avenue Press, wrote about the loss of a beloved friend to COVID-19, and the debilitating domino effect that followed, leading to her daughter’s bewildered confession to her teacher: “…I don’t (know) how to deal with my mom when she is (grieving).”

Laid off after 22 years as a bookseller at Powell’s Books, Kevin Sampsell spends his time now working on his own novel.

“(M)aking art is probably the best way to combat anxiety and atrophy,” he wrote. That, and playing with his new kitten, “Susan.”

There are also poems from Washington state’s poet laureate Claudia Castro Luna, and other authors including Amber Flame, Christine Hemp and Jamie Ford.

There are essays by Garth Stein, Lidia Yuknavitch and Donna Miscolta, among others.

Haupt also includes interviews she conducted with memoirists Dani Shapiro, David Sheff and NPR’s poet-in-residence Kwame Alexander.

“Alone Together” offers nurturing fare.

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com.

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