Honorable Mention, 2022 Nonfiction Prize, Writers' League of Texas
A remarkable collection of words and illustrations documenting the first year of the pandemic.
In March 2020, as lockdowns were imposed around the world, author and illustrator Edward Carey raced home to Austin, Texas. The next day, he published on social media a sketch of “A Very Determined Young Man.” The day after, he posted another drawing. One year and one hundred and fifty Tombow B pencil stubs later, he was still drawing.
Carey’s pencil fills the page with the marvelous and intriguing, picturing people, characters, animals, monsters, and his favorite bird to draw, the grackle. He reaches into history and fiction to escape grim reality through flights of vivid imagination—until events demand the drawings “look straight on.”
Breonna Taylor, the Brontë sisters, John Lewis, King Lear, and even the portraits that mark the progress of the year for the Very Determined Young Man combine into a remarkable document of the pandemic and its politics. For Carey, though, trapped inside a home he loves, these portraits are something more, a way to chart time, an artist’s way of creating connection in isolation. With an introduction by Max Porter, this exceptional collection from the acclaimed author of Little marks a year of a man trapped with his pencil, determined to find solace amid uncertainty.
Edward Carey is the author and illustrator of four novels—Observatory Mansions, Alva & Irva, Little, and The Swallowed Man—and the YA series The Iremonger Trilogy. He teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.
Max Porter is the author of Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, Lanny, and The Death of Francis Bacon.
A charming lockdown memoir and the perfect gift for doodlers and illustrators. Made me want to take up drawing again!
~Margaret Atwood, @MargaretAtwood
Wonderful and strange and disturbing and hopeful in equal measures.
Samuel Johnson / An otter. Emmett Till / An albatross. Dolly Parton / A puffin! Day by day this rich and nutritious mix. What he is giving us is a beautiful and soulfully assembled museum, unfolding unpredictably every day as life itself must. Free to use, curated with charm and a delicate tendency towards humanity’s better instincts. What a family he has assembled. Clever, innovative, weird-looking all of us.
~Max Porter, from the Foreword
Carey’s careful measurement of time, of mark marking, of material monogamy, is a strange comfort, uneasily recalling those quietly contained days (if one was lucky) early in the pandemic.
[Plagues & Pencils] records the tumultuous events throughout the year, shows readers how imagination can derive enjoyment from the routine, and reminds us that, maybe, small things can help us survive.
Plagues & Pencils captures the frustration and uncertainty of confinement and Covid peril endured by humanity worldwide. Carey’s Geppetto is an artisan surmounting the soulless isolation with finely crafted, simple line drawings with equal measures of hope and anguish. Overall, that is an appropriate aesthetic epistle born of a very troubled time.
~Lone Star Literary Life
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