Skip to main content

Plague on the Page: Narratives of Disease and Healing in Contemporary Contexts

Rebecca Davis
Professor Rebecca Davis

Throughout history, writers have engaged with subjects of health and disease–sometimes as the main focus of a work or as a subplot or guiding thread. For example, Romantic poets such as John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley were influential in creating a cult of Tuberculosis, or Consumptive Chic, as it is sometimes known, through their emotionally wrought poetry and literary image. While the study of texts written centuries ago about the illnesses common to their day is worthwhile work, another avenue–that of studying how contemporary writers use historical perspectives and experience with health in historical fiction– is an intriguing area of study, and one that illuminates not only how we view our past but also how we connect writing with health in a contemporary context. 

This presentation seeks to explore how contemporary writers are influenced by historical accounts of disease and health, with an especial focus on the rise of Covid stories and their connections to the Black Death and Tuberculosis. This presentation will also include a craft talk of researching and writing about a historical health topic and a brief fiction reading by the author.


Professor Rebecca Davis teaches creative writing in the English and Writing Studies program and is co-director of the Health Humanities program. She also serves as director for Salem's literary arts organization, the Center for Women Writers. Professor Davis earned her BA from Salem College in creative writing, English, and history, and then earned a MA in English Literature from Wake Forest University and a MFA in creative writing from UNCG. Her debut novel, Amidst this Fading Light (SFK Press, 2018), won several awards, and her short fiction has been published widely in regional literary magazines, as well as nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Currently, Professor Davis is finishing the manuscript of her second novel, which she hopes to publish next year, as well as earning a graduate certificate in narrative healthcare.