Mark Nicklawske

Stories of Wisdom from Bodies in Separation (SWaBS):
Archiving the Coronavirus Pandemic Through the Lens of Humanities


Pressing On:
Pandemic brings hard times to the North Country 

by Mark Nicklawske

In his essay, Mark Nicklawske describes his early March 2020 trip from Duluth to New York City with his wife, Jen. He was on a writing assignment for the Duluth News Tribune to cover the opening night Broadway production of “Girl From The North Country” by Irish playwright Conor McPherson, a play set in Duluth, Minnesota and based on the songs of Bob Dylan. While they were in New York City the COVID-19 virus was increasing in numbers in the United States and was about to completely shut down the city. He writes about his observations and experiences on this trip and also includes excerpts from his Duluth News Tribune review. He describes the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant funded project, Stories of Wisdom from Bodies in Separation (SWaBS), which he is a part of and that this creative work is included in. As part of this project he also conducted eleven oral history interviews with people who live in the Duluth area and the greater Northeastern Minnesota region. Mark writes about and includes material from several of these interviews in his essay. Included are: Israel Malachi, a musician, pilot, and small business owner with personal ties to Wuhan, China; Azin Awal, a public health student at the University of Minnesota Duluth who saw the seriousness of the novel coronavirus long before it was declared a global pandemic; Jeremy Kershaw, a registered nurse and essential worker who cares for mental health patients; Ann Kathryn Forsman, a Duluth singer-songwriter who turns adversity into art; Amy Westbrook, whose adult daughter returns to her childhood home from a COVID-19 hotspot in Colorado; Dennis Lamkin, cut off from his two “chosen sons”, Talha and Muhammed, who were studying in Turkey when all travel visas were indefinitely suspended; George Ellsworth, who is African-American, is an admissions representative for a Duluth hospital, and speaks about racism and social justice issues in this current moment and in the context of history, after the killing of George Floyd in late May of 2020; Suenary Philavanh, a Cambodian/Lao-American and a recent graduate from the University of Minnesota Duluth, after hearing the president use racist language when naming the virus, says that, “It kind of opened my eyes to how normalized racism is towards the Asian-American community”; Zach Benz, a recent college graduate who cares for his grandmother during the pandemic, talks about the socially distant memorial that was held for her after she passed away; and Tiffany Skroch, who is senior at the University of Minnesota Duluth and a devout Catholic, hasn’t attended church in person since March and talks about her faith during this time.



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Stories of Wisdom from Bodies in Separation (SWaBS): Archiving the Coronavirus Pandemic Through the Lens of Humanities has been made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

To see the full interviews
and media for this project

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