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Author Amy Alznauer and illustrator Ping Zhu were scheduled to attend the Athens Children's Book Festival at the Athens-Clarke County Public Library on March 28 until it was postponed indefinitely due to safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo/Julian Alexander)

Amy Alznauer and Ping Zhu have collaborated on a children’s book together, but have never met in person. Due to the pandemic, they don’t know if they ever will.

Alznauer, author and professor at Northwestern University, and Zhu, illustrator and artist in New York City, were scheduled to attend the Athens Children’s Book Festival at the Athens-Clarke County Public Library on March 28 until it was postponed indefinitely due to safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alznauer and Zhu were coming to Athens to debut The Strange Birds of Flannery O’Connor: A Life, a children’s book about author Flannery O’Connor, written by Alznauer and illustrated by Zhu.

Even though they finished the book prior to the pandemic, Alznauer and Zhu didn’t have the opportunity to meet until they both decided to come to the Athens Children’s Book Festival.

Alznauer said she was excited to meet her illustrator, Zhu and other authors and illustrators in Athens. Having never been to Athens herself, Alznauer said she was excited to see the town.

“We had an entire book tour planned in the south. It was 10 days, going to the Athens Children’s Book Festival, book parties in Savannah and Milledgeville and school visits and it’s been really sad to lose that,” said Alznauer.

Alznauer said she hopes to reschedule the majority of her events after August. With book events getting canceled or postponed across the country, however, it’s hard to say when Alznauer will be able reschedule her events.

Uncertainty with rescheduling book events

It is uncertain when or if the library will reschedule the Athens Children’s Book Festival, as the entire book publishing industry faces uncertainty surrounding author events and book tours.

March usually marks “the beginning of the lucrative spring bookselling season,” according to an article on Publisher’s Weekly. Bookstores rely on author events and literary festivals to bring in sales during the bookselling season, while authors rely on its publicity. Without book events, bookstores lose sales and authors lose publicity.

Avid Bookshop closed its sales floor on March 16, but offered curbside pick up for a short time. The shop then switched to solely online orders on March 20. With the closure and consideration of safety precautions, Avid Bookshop has postponed or canceled all of its events until further notice.

The book publishing industry is a continuous cycle, Alznauer said. Another consequence of postponed or canceled events is that there may not be another time for authors to get publicity at bookstore events or literary festivals.

“With the publishing schedule, new books are constantly coming out and will continue coming out even after this is all over,” said Zhu. “I would still really like to attend the Athens Children’s Book Festival if it does get rescheduled for any reason.”

Alznauer shares the same view as Zhu of wanting to attend a rescheduled children’s book festival once it is safe again.

Creative process for the time being

As a writer and as an artist, Alznauer and Zhu’s creative processes have changed as they’ve transitioned to working from home.

As Alznauer began switching gears to work from home with more quiet time, she didn’t feel as though she was able to get more writing done. It was kind of the opposite, Alznauer said.

“I felt stressed out at first, but once I got everything up and running, I felt like I found my sea legs,” Alznauer said. “There’s a silver lining to having all of this time, you start leading this hermit artist life by enforcement.”

As an artist, Zhu has a studio in Brooklyn, New York, but due to the pandemic, she’s been working from home.

“I’ve found working from home to be very difficult because there is no physical separation between my life and my work,” Zhu said. “Now that I have to work off my kitchen table, it’s a little disheartening, but I’m glad that it’s not for money issues. It’s the best for safety issues.”

Zhu said some days it’s easier to push negative thoughts aside and work productively. Although, not all days are easy and she’s trying to be optimistic and realistic about working from her current space for an indefinite period of time.

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