Ling Ma doesn’t feel like an oracle, even as her award-winning debut novel about an epidemic finds new resonance amid the coronavirus outbreak. Published in 2018, Severance was inspired by emergencies of lesser scales: the 2002 SARS epidemic, Hurricane Sandy, and the 2011 snowpocalypse that shut down Chicago businesses and schools.
“I thought about how companies would react when these catastrophes happened,” said Ma, AB’05, an assistant professor of practice in the arts in the University of Chicago’s Program in Creative Writing. “I thought about my jobs, how people interact in the workplace and the power hierarchies. And how the media metabolizes larger-than-life events, trying to create a narrative for us in real time.”