Pandemic Stories

Wed. Oct 28, 2020 at 6:30pm EDT
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What draws us to pandemic stories? Writers and experts explore the past, present, and future of quarantine writing.


  • Moderator Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone

  • Peng Shepherd, author of The Book of M

  • Laura van den Berg, author of Find Me

  • Mike Chen, author of A Beginning at the End

Book covers

The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked overwhelming interest in books and films depicting pandemics, contagion, and other biological threats. From The Decameron to The Stand, pandemics have a long history in literature. Why are we drawn to these stories? What can they tell us about the moment we're experiencing?

A panel of authors and editors convene (socially distanced!) to discuss the genre’s power and relevance. Bestselling author Richard Preston, whose book The Hot Zone chronicles the emergence of the Ebola virus, leads the conversation.


Richard Preston is a bestselling author of 10 books, nonfiction and fiction, whose works reveal hidden worlds of nature and wonder.  His books have been published in more than 35 languages.  Preston is a contributor to the The New Yorker, and all of his nonfiction books have first appeared as articles there.

Peng Shepherd  was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where she rode horses and trained in classical ballet, and has lived in Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, London, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, and Las Vegas.  Her first novel, The Book of M, won the 2019 Neukom Institute for Literary Arts Award for Debut Speculative Fiction. A graduate of the NYU MFA program, Peng is the recipient of a 2020 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Laura van den Berg is the author of the story collections What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us and The Isle of Youth, and the novels Find Me and The Third Hotel, which was a finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. Her new collection of stories, I Hold a Wolf by the Ears, was published by FSG in July. Born and raised in Florida, Laura splits her time between the Boston area and Central Florida, with her husband and dog.

Mike Chen is the author of Here And Now And ThenA Beginning At The End, and We Could Be Heroes, and his short fiction is featured in Star Wars: From A Certain Point Of View. A member of SFWA, Mike lives in the Bay Area with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals.

If you have a NYPL library card—or live in New York state and want to apply for one now—you can borrow these titles for free with our e-reader app SimplyE, available for iOS and Android devices.

Readers everywhere who wish to purchase these books can do so at The New York Public Library Shop. All proceeds benefit The New York Public Library. Plus, receive a free 125th Anniversary tote bag with your purchase!

This program will be streamed on Zoom. You must register with your email address in order to receive the link to participate. Please check your email shortly before the discussion to receive the link. Captions for this event will be provided.

Branching Out is a series of online author talks hosted by New York Public Library neighborhood branches.

Explore new literary worlds and connect with local community at author talks and panel conversations. Learn more at

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