As a new variant of COVID begins to swell out there on the horizon, this edition of Ninth Letter Online appears amid a short lull in domestic pandemic news—a welcomed distance, though perhaps a shortened one. Each of these writers offered us similar short respites, distanced from the pathogen never far from the mind. Even the writers here who addressed the pandemic head-on, they too were mediators standing between us and it, and gave our team a distance that made it possible to think again. From C-130s to handheld MMOs, and also canyons stratified like family lines, and also aliens stealing grandma and T. Swift on repeat forever and more still, these light beams refract through that clear prism of a pandemic.

The “Distanced” edition received nearly double our usual submission totals for 9L Online, perhaps unsurprising amidst such extended collective trauma. Many were clearly still processing it. Some looked away entirely, either for contrast or for self-care. Others spoke bluntly in anger or weariness. But each of the stories and poems in this edition did not just broach the distancing we’ve all felt, but they embodied it in medium and message. And while it’s easy to get lost in that theoretical distance between signifier and signified—like we were in undergrad all over again—these pieces blow that problem up to scale. Besides, like most human problems, pandemic response is a problem of discourse, right?

Thank you to all eleven contributors for bridging their distances. To our crew of editors I’m particularly indebted: I did not fully appreciate the psychic toll this theme might have on our team, and regardless of submission totals, these editors extended themselves outward and with great care. And thank you readers, for being here, and also being there.


Editor: Zachariah McVicker

Editorial Assistants: Jack Badalamenti, Samantha Blanc, Autumn Bolte, Nathan Bulow, Hallin Burgan, Angelica Garcia, Mason Gregg, Treyton Jansen, Allie Johnston, Rushabh Kapasi, Autumn Latus, Logan Mitzel, Shane Peek, Tyshawn Primer, Natalie Sarris, Kerry Taylor, Eduardo West