Beacon author compiles recollections of 2020
In the 10th-grade English classes he teaches, Steve Fowler tries to emphasize empathy. With the world thrown into a seesaw of fear and inertia during the pandemic, Fowler, like many people, sought connections.
He channeled his desire into a book, Hindsight: Untold Stories from 2020, which contains 32 stories, written by people from around the world, about the strange days that began in March 2020. Collectively, the stories synchronize with each other.
Fowler says he hoped to capture the pandemic from the perspective of the everyday. “How often does everyone on the planet experience the same thing?” he asks. “How often is there any phenomenon that transcends geographical, cultural, political and social boundaries? For a time in 2020, everyone on Earth faced the same threat, the same dilemma, the same fear.”
In an explanatory note, Fowler writes: “What I set out to do was to put together a history book — a record of important events told from the perspective of the average person. What I ended up with was a human book — a collection of critical days in people’s lives during a time unlike any other in the last century.”
Fowler, who has lived with his wife in Beacon for six years, came up with the idea for the book in August 2020, soon after making a decision to shift careers. He left a job as a writing coordinator at Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh to earn a master’s degree so that he could teach. When he began the book, he also left his position as the food and drink editor at Hudson Valley Magazine.
While embarking on his master’s program, and the chaos of doing his own student teaching amid constant format changes during the pandemic, Fowler built a project website and developed a social-media plan.
On Jan. 1, 2021, he began soliciting stories, setting a 2,000-word limit. “In my experience reading personal essays, after that point a lot of stories bring in information that’s not needed,” he says. The stories also had to be unpublished and factual.
Soon, unexpectedly, Fowler had received hundreds of submissions from writers in 28 countries. “Everyone had a story to share,” Fowler says. “The outreach was a bear, but it was also so exciting, because you never knew what would come up.” The 32 stories he selected include seven by writers from outside the U.S.
One group he didn’t hear from initially were first responders. “How do you have this book without the voices of front-line workers?” he says. “They were living it.” He reached out to a nurses’ union, which solicited members in its newsletter.
Story by story, the book began to take shape. “What it came down to, I was in a way putting the book together for me,” Fowler says. “There was no particular wish list of topics.”
Despite the number of submissions, there were aspects of life in 2020 that don’t make an appearance, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and the presidential election. Fowler said he would have liked to include both, but “ultimately [activism and politics] wasn’t the angle the book was winding toward.”
Instead, the stories include those by a Czech nurse in New York City; an Australian woman who watches her favorite hiking preserve consumed by wildfires; a Texas man who wonders what will happen to his boomtown after the price of oil plummets; a British father who works to help his mentally ill son during lockdowns; and an Alabama woman selected for one of the first vaccine trials.
The overwhelming response Fowler says he has received from the writers is gratitude for being included.