Looking to the Literary World

Adapting to Change

By Mako Duvall and Gabrielle Thurman

The publishing industry has seen, in just a few short years, a drastic shift in many areas, from where employees work to how consumers are marketed to. Of course, these changes did not come to exist vainly or in a vacuum. Rather, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 forced many companies across the planet and across almost every sector to adapt to the needs and demands of a pandemic and (hopefully) post-pandemic world. 

One industry affected strongly by the pandemic was, of course, publishing. Rising material costs forced larger publishing houses to reconsider what kinds of books they wished to prioritize and how many of those books they could reasonably expect to publish profitably. The unfortunate truth of the pandemic was that, as with most crises, larger houses and firms had a much easier time weathering the storm, but not even they came out unscathed.

Some smaller publishers, including literary magazines and journals, struggled to deal with these costs. To adapt, some were reducing their annual publishing, switching to a primarily digital publication format, or shutting down entirely under strain. As more publications moved exclusively online, income sources became more flexible, with some presses moving toward subscription or membership business models. 

On a more individual level, employees frequently had to attend staff meetings and other important events over digital platforms like Zoom. Literary conferences and other large-scale gatherings had to either adapt quickly to the new norm of Zoom, postpone, or cancel completely. Publishing’s slow tumble into decentralization became a free fall. With more conferences, book tours, and everyday communications occurring over Zoom, the publishing industry post-vaccine is making its way out of New York City, which is a good thing; the average editor’s pay is $10,000 less than the cost of living. Editors feel burnt out, and overall, the mental health of the public is on a decline. The publishing industry is no exception; the consequences of long-term social isolation brought on by the pandemic aren’t fully known yet, but it is likely to have a prolonged negative impact on those most affected by structural discrimination, such as children, people with disabilities or chronic illnesses, ethnic and racial minorities, and rural populations. 

On the consumer’s end, reduced access to physically printed materials due to supply chain disasters, materials shortage, and limited access to retail stores—thanks to limited staffing and (necessary) social distancing—led to frustrations that have ultimately been answered by an even greater emphasis on home delivery and no contact checkout services, a fact that has left Amazon keenly better off than most companies and driven a greater expectation for home delivered products going forward. 

However, the current state of the industry isn’t all doom and gloom. Some smaller publishers were able to find and fill new niches in the publishing space, especially online, as the demand for digital media soared to unprecedented heights. As the pandemic has begun to recede somewhat from the public consciousness, publishing houses that were once on the brink are now finding new footing and new life as physical storefronts and writers’ conferences open once again. The trials and tribulations of the past few years certainly seem unique, but the demand for the written word still exists, and as long as there is a demand, the publishing industry will be here to fill it.


Mako Duvall is an undergraduate at the University of Central Arkansas and a student intern for the Arkana Issue 13.

Gabrielle Thurman is a new writer, book lover, queer woman, professional editor, and native Arkansan. She majors in creative writing and plans to attend law school in the fall of 2023.

Looking to the Literary World

Erin Beliu and VIDA: A Retrospective

By Jeremy Quinn

“Male writers may suffer strains on their single-minded dedication to their art for reasons of class or race or nationality, but so far no male writer is likely to be asked to sit on a panel addressing itself to the special problems of a male writer, or be expected to support another writer simply because he happens to be a man.  Such things are asked of women writers all the time, and it makes them jumpy.” – Margaret Atwood

Jumpy.  Classic Atwood, that word choice.  So understated as to be a whisper (gender bias having, of course, made women so much more than ‘jumpy’affronted, insulted’, enraged come to mind), it is yet a deadly whisper, a warning, even, to WATCH OUT, for women, you see, have been put on an irregular course; after centuries of gender bias, they’re at an unpredictable, jumpy stage, and their actions might still upend the status quo. 

One way to do that?  Hold the publishing world accountable.  If gender bias is a cloudy term, so vague of an accusation that powerful men can deny or evade it with disarming ease, then deploy careful, fact-based research – free of anecdote or bias – to discern and disseminate the exact figures and dispel the clouds.  Gain the means to state that __ journal published # __ women and # __ men over the course of # __ issues.  Publish the results annually.  Establish patterns and prove the bias.  The hope, as voiced by Erin Belieu, in this interview from 2015?  That, once faced with the incontrovertible reality that men’s voices are systematically valued over those of women, editors and publishers responsible for the bias will naturally seek more equality, and “deserving women’s texts – across the globe – [which] remain unpublished or out-of-print” will find their audience.[i]  Belieu references two journals whose editors have made efforts toward more equitable publication numbers, Tin House and the Paris Review.  In her words, “Their editors said, ‘Yep. VIDA makes a good point.  Let’s fix this.’  And they did.  No drama… They decided that what VIDA is saying matters” (108).

“Speaking truth to power is not about moral superiority.  In order to be effective, it has to be aimed at changing the target’s fundamental attitudes.” – Bayard Rustin

“The Satyagrahi’s {Truth-Seeker’s] object is to convert, not to coerce, the wrongdoer.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“I can’t think of a woman writer I know who doesn’t have stories about the disturbing things that were said or done to her because of her gender while pursuing her writing career… Some women will share their stories readily, and some are more reticent… VIDA’s presence has made a lot more women willing to take the risk”, Belieu claims (103).  More women sharing their stories, risking the label ‘Crazy’, ‘Bitchy’, or ‘Selfish’, for the Sake of Truth EQUALS = more power to women, more women’s voices published, and less power to the Patriarchy.  A very healthy equation!  And one very familiar in the #MeToo age.

“Of course, it was illegal and criminal and that was very satisfying, to tell the truth, and be supported in telling the truth.” – Gloria Steinem, on the first issue of Ms. magazine.

… but (and also, ‘of course’) the health of the above equation very much depends on which women’s stories are deemed worthy of being heard.  Tarana Burke (an African-American woman) founded MeToo in 2006, but it was the tweet of (Caucasian woman) Alyssa Milano in 2017 concerning (Caucasian man) Harvey Weinstein, which took the movement viral.  While fully aware of the movement’s radical international impact, Ms. Burke has often expressed concern that MeToo, conceived as a platform to assist women in neighborhood communities of color, was co-opted by the white entertainment industry.  “We are socialized to respond to the vulnerability of white women”, she states.[ii] 

In her July 1972 New Yorker article The Women’s Movement, Joan Didion implies that minority groups, in their efforts toward justice, lose their cause when they work for ‘social ideals’ rather than issues of immediate reform – i.e, ‘class interests’ rather than a seat on the bus.[iii]  She identifies feminism’s Second Wave as falling prey to just that; its inauguration, she claims, arrived with “the invention of women as a ‘class’.  The women’s groups spearheading this Wave “seized as a political technique a kind of shared testimony… They purged and regrouped and purged again, worried out one another’s errors and deviations, the ‘elitism’ here, the ‘careerism’ there.”  A question looms large here: whether women (and, perhaps, by extension, other underrepresented groups) do best to control/create their own means of production, or to demand a greater share of those which exist?  Returning to the interview under discussion: “I don’t think we address gender bias by taking our ball and going off to make our own game,” Belieu claims, “Why should women writers want anything less than their male counterparts have?” (109).[iv] 

“Why were we constantly told, you can’t do this, don’t do that, temper your ambition, lower your voice, stay in your place… Why wasn’t a female striving seen as life enriching?… If I felt that way, I wondered how the people of color around me felt.” – Billie Jean King

The VIDA Board announced in 2019 that the organization’s programs would be put on pause to “focus inwards and re-examine our foundations” due to a “climate of white feminism with racist, cis-centrist, and ableist overtones” within the organization that was allowed to persist.[v]  2019 marked the last VIDA Count.

Gender equality is a valuable social goal; in the struggle for that achievement, it must be acknowledged that all women don’t share identical advantages or the same goals.  The longer one sits with Belieu’s interview and considers the motivations for the VIDA Count, the more questions arise concerning the struggle for gender equity.  Do women compose a class?  If not, where is the line between gender and class drawn?  Should the language of oppressed racial minorities be used in women’s liberation?  Where does the experience between these groups diverge, and where is their cause the same?  And how do answers to these questions apply to our understanding of Arkana’s purpose or the literary journal as a form? 

“Speaking truth to power makes no sense.  Instead, speak truth to the powerless.  Or better, with the powerless.  Then they’ll act to dismantle illegitimate power.” – Noam Chomsky 


[i] VIDA’s website.

[ii] https://www.npr.org/2021/09/29/1041362145/me-too-founder-tarana-burke-says-black-girls-trauma-shouldnt-be-ignored

[iii] The New Yorker, July 1972.

[iv] In 2016, a year after giving the interview discussed here, and in direct response to the result of that year’s US Presidential election, Belieu founded “Writers Resist”, a feminist literary collective.  Its last biweekly issue launched January 2021.  Today, Belieu is a full professor at the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Department; of the paragraphs in her bio, only one mention is made of her participation with the VIDA Count.

[v]  VIDA’s website.


Jeremy Quinn is in his first year in the MFA Creative Writing program at the Univesity of Central Arkansas. After specializing in Fiction Writing at the University of Montana (BA) and working/publishing years thereafter in the fields of travel and taste, he is now honing his genre voice at UCA with a strong emphasis on creative nonfiction.

Looking to the Literary World

Writing Contests: Value and Expense

By Grace Burns

The competitive spirit manages to find its way into every career field: writing and publishing is no different. If you simply look up “writing contest” in your chosen search engine, thousands of pages of articles outlining the best contests will pop up. What is it about these contests that draw in striving writers? What kind of effect has this had on the publishing industry? What can you do about it?

A large part of the draw contests has come from the prestige that a writer can get from winning. They have a new feather in their cap! From then on, a writer has that accolade that they can put on resumes, and cover letters, as well as a confidence boost. Who doesn’t like to hear that their writing is worth a reward?

These contests also have impacted the publishing industry by providing a venue of funds for literary magazines. In Nathaniel Tower’s article “How to Host a Writing Contest”, he details the pathways that a literary magazine can take to properly run their own contest. It’s possible for almost any publication to run these contests and even if they are too small for the contest to turn over a profit, the exposure can benefit the growth of that publication.

However, even with all of the upsides to these contests, it has struck up a new debate in the industry. With the increase in the number of contests and deep looks into accessibility, the ethics of contests have been questioned. The main argument against contests remains about the monetary aspect: the entry fees.

Standard contests run around $10-$20 (USD) for submissions. On one hand, this is necessary for the publication to support itself, and on the other hand, it decreases the possibility of people in unstable financial situations getting their work. The publishing industry itself has its struggle with diversity, and it’s made even more apparent in situations such as this, where a class disparity is clearly laid out: you have to pay-to-play, and sometimes you can’t pay.

As discouraging as this can be, the main advice that can be given is this: weigh the costs and rewards and make informed decisions from there. Holly Lyn Walrath says in her article “Are Writing Contests Worth Entering?” that writers should focus on “writing the best thing you can and submitting it to the best market for your genre.” Research your field! Research the contests that interest you. Prioritize the ones where the benefits outweigh the initial cost. Think of it as a submission fee that has a set payout.

In the book Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century, Kevin Larimer summarizes everything perfectly. “At the end of the day, publishing is a competition. The real question is whether you want to pay an entry fee to be in it.”


Grace Burns is a first-year MFA student at the University of Central Arkansas studying creative writing with a focus on poetry.

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Zachary S. Johnson

Arkana Editors chatted with writer Zachary S. Johnson. His fiction piece, “A Small Fire in Ephraim’s Wood,” is featured in Arkana’s 12th Issue.


Arkana: The three perspectives in this story build off of each other to culminate in an emotional gut punch. Why did you decide to write from each brother’s POV rather than focus on a single character? 

Zachary S. Johnson: Well, I wanted to demonstrate that the characters weren’t bound to each others’ experience. When we think about sibling relationships—and I’m one of three boys myself—we tend to flatten distinctions between siblings without taking caution with the way each child’s experiences with their parents are formed. It’s not uncommon for siblings to have different individual relationships with each parent, and that’s certainly been my experience. They are brothers, and they do love each other dearly, I think. I just think that their respective ideas about love are grounded in vastly different principles.

ARK: With the epigraph and references to Beloved, this story is clearly inspired by Toni Morrison’s work. What do you find most powerful about her writing? How does it inform your own work?

ZSJ: Toni’s work helped me work through my grief; grief is something that sits by you and demands attention. Grief is like a child. It demands nurturing. You have to accommodate it—you cannot neglect it. Thankfully, I had a writer like Toni to look up to; her work reinforced for me that I am entitled to a complex relationship with grief…to complex relationships with all my emotions. They don’t have to fit squarely within certain paradigms or assumptions, be they racial, gendered, poverty-informed, etc. I have a Toni to look up to, and for that, I’m very grateful. Blessed! Being born when I was born, raised on that kind of literature.  

ARK: This story is a heartbreaking meditation on abandonment. What do you hope this piece communicates to your readers?

ZSJ: So the story was inspired by a real story (a la Beloved and Margaret Garner) that I read about two parents in Houston that had abandoned their three children in an apartment, and one of the children died. Notably, it was reported that his body had begun to rot when the police found the children. I’m convinced that there’s not a one-to-one relationship between abandonment and love. People abandon things they love all the time, and I think the absent parents in the story loved their children deeply. Perhaps even love will motivate us to make what seem like monstrous decisions. I’m sympathetic to those parents, you know? I hope that people can read this and feel things they’re not “supposed” to feel, like sympathy. 

ARK: Could you describe the significance of the biblical reference in your story’s title?

ZSJ: Yeah, the Battle of Ephraim’s Wood was a battle between David and his son Absalom. I have a real respect for the legacy of William Faulkner in the genre, and there’s always this problem of parentage in his work. The biblical stories present the occasional masterclass in family dysfunction, which I think is a big part of the divine message, maybe. That there’s some sort of deliverance from your “original sin,” the generational trauma that contorts your emotional ecology. Like, perhaps that’s salvation. With regard to these boys, I think this is a case of divine intervention gone wrong. And they’re all searching for a kind of deliverance.

ARK: In addition to your work with Arkana, are there any other publications or projects you are excited about? (What are you working on now?)

ZSJ: Well, law school is pretty demanding (I didn’t end up going to Duke, I’m at Harvard now), but in between my assignments, I’ve been working through some horror stories. I have a story that’s influenced by a classic, “The Lottery,” that I hope will see the light of day somewhere. I love what the writers on FX’s Atlanta are doing with the genre too. I took a trip out to Martha’s Vineyard in July, and I found myself wandering about, thinking about town secrets and taboos. So hopefully, around the next submission period, I’ll have the pleasure of getting that to Arkana. I like you guys.

ARK: Thank you so much! You know, Shirley Jackson’s story still haunts me to this day. I can imagine the balance between school and writing must be hectic, but look forward to seeing something influenced by Jackson’s work. So, I hope that comes to fruition as well.

ZSJ: I’m just very thankful that this work got to see the light of day. It was a very personal effort—that it resonated with the editorial board means so much.

ARK: We are excited to have your piece in our issue! Thank you for speaking with us, and we look forward to seeing what’s ahead for you!

Read “A Small Fire in Ephraim’s Wood” here!


Zachary S. Johnson is a graduate of the University of Arkansas. A native of Little Rock, he’s a writer, poet, and author of “A Small Fire in Ephraim’s Wood.” He is a student at Harvard University School. He currently lives in Dallas, Texas with his partner and attack dog, Seiko the Yorkie.


Image Credit: Albrecht Fietz

Looking to the Literary World

Diversity and Inclusion in Publishing

By Scarlett Castleberry

It is our goal at Arkana to foster creative writing and to give previously unheard voices a place to call home and an audience who will listen. Editors and readers alike should be taken out of their comfort zones from time to time to explore a part of the world they may not yet be familiar with but may nevertheless resonate within.

“We strive to create a space that brings together diverse voices and champions stories that embody our mission,” the Arkana website states. Arkana seeks unification in our human sense of “shared wonder” by remaining open to new walks of life and focusing on inclusivity and inspiration. Of course, seeing your blind spots is never easy, and that is something we and other publishers alike are working to be more aware of as the market has begun to move in new directions.

The world of well-established big-name publishing still has enough momentum to stay afloat as they are for maybe a few decades longer perhaps, but even they see change on the horizon–or rather banging at their doors–as “diversity” and “inclusivity” are what people have explicitly looked for in literature for at least a generation now. Editors and publishers have been able to brush off stories from people whose experiences are different from their own for a long time now, which has built a very homogeneous market. But today, in virtually every field, we are seeing a greater demand for diversity and inclusivity. The tides are changing (albeit slowly), and people are becoming curious and interested. It would actually be an excellent opportunity for major companies like “the Big 5” to lead that change.

The problems in mainstream publishing resulting from long-term biases and discrimination are multi-layered and cannot be solved overnight by simply opening some gates. Major publishers like Penguin Random House may boast increasing numbers of “diversity,” but audiences have yet to see those numbers reach numbers close to resembling that of the general population.

In the wake of all this, however, there are arising smaller independent publishers, self-publishers, online publishers, and other means of producing and distributing that the mainstream guys have been too content to think of. We live in an innovative time, especially for the arts, and there has perhaps never been an opportunity to shake things up quite like this in the world of writing and publishing. Lots of writers, readers, editors, and publishers seem to be taking advantage of these loopholes and backroad opportunities to cultivate a new world of literature, and it’s those individuals who partake in the new (and at times uncertain) changes that lead the way for progress.

Still, the “right” way of doing diversity has yet to really be established, thus the shift to other, less contaminated terms like “inclusivity.” Actual steps taken towards attaining diversity have varied in their effectiveness and side effects. Bookselling behemoth Barnes and Noble provided us with an excellent example of how not to do diversity with their 2020 “Diverse Editions” Classics scheme. Rather than seeking or promoting new and unheard voices, the company created new covers for 12 classic novels. These covers featured people of color, but the texts themselves remained unchanged, meaning no real “diversity” was achieved because the books were still white stories.

Again, we essentially return to the issue of sugar-coated statistics without having any real change to show for it. So as we continue to broach this subject and, more importantly, as we make concrete moves to improve things, we must do so with the intention of opening our ears more than our mouths and our sense of wonder more than our preconceived notions.


Scarlett Castleberry is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Arkansas. She received her undergraduate degree in psychology and communications from Ouachita Baptist University and now seeks to combine those interests with her lifelong love for storytelling.

Arkana News, Editor Notes

Arkana Issue 13 Virtual Launch Party

Join Arkana editors in celebrating the launch of Issue 13! Join Arkana editors and friends on December 7th, 2022, at 6 pm CST!


Arkana Readers, Friends, and Family,


Please join us Wednesday, December 7th, at 6pm CST via Zoom for Arkana Issue 13’s Virtual Launch Party.

Issue 13 contributors will read their poems and stories, we will host our usual rounds of trivia, and come together to celebrate yet another Arkana Issue!

Save the Date! Find a link to our event here!


Read the latest issue of Arkana here!

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Molly Wadzeck Kraus

Arkana Editors chatted with poet and essayist Molly Wadzeck Kraus. Her creative nonfiction piece, “to the pretty brunette in group therapy at the psych ward,” won the Editor’s Choice Award and is featured in Arkana’s 12th Issue.


Arkana: Partially because of its setting and second-person address, “to the pretty brunette …” reminded one of our editors of several short pieces by George Saunders. In regards to writing style, did you have a conscience influence when writing this piece?

Molly Wadzeck Kraus: What a compliment to think of Saunders! Because this piece is deeply personal and explores serious topics like suicide and substance abuse, I wanted the narrative device to remove the focus from me. The ‘girl’ in question functions as a placeholder for my insecurities, thoughts, and judgments about the other residents, my circumstances, and my shame. Speaking to her, rather than writing about me, allowed me to kind of step away from those uncomfortable and anxious feelings I get when talking about myself in such a vulnerable way.

When considering the writing style and what would be effective, I had recently finished reading Yaa Gyasi’s stunning novel Homegoing for the second time. I was struck by how she uses language—moving seamlessly from lyrical analogy to repetitious, short, punchy plot-moving sentences.

ARK: Although “to the pretty brunette …” works well as a stand-alone piece, is it, or could it be part of a larger collection?

MWK: It is part of an early-stage, haphazardly organized collection, mostly stream of consciousness essays and notes tucked away in some Google docs. This was the first piece to come to fruition.

ARK: What inspired you to write this piece?

MWK: It’s a creative reimagining and interpretation of a journal I kept during my stay in the mental health unit. Some of the quotes are directly lifted from it. I wanted to write about my scariest experience and process the trauma that both preceded and followed. Mental health care in this country is in shambles; I’m one of the lucky few to have support and resources. Still, my stay, even under my privileged conditions, not only did not really help me but also crushed much of the remaining optimism I had about recovery and healing within the system. It left me more heartbroken, and for years I struggled to find a way to communicate the complex effects it had on me.

ARK: Was Betty real?

MWK: Every character in the piece is real, with names changed to protect privacy.  

ARK: We appreciate your attention to privacy! 

ARK: In addition to creative nonfiction, in what other genres do you write?

MWK: I am a poet, and I also write semi-reported, opinion, and personal essays covering reproductive justice/rights, pop culture, and parenting.

ARK: And of course, we always want to know, in addition to your work with Arkana, are there any other publications or projects you are excited about? What are you working on now?

MWK: I gave birth to my third child after I completed this piece and took a brief hiatus from producing new work. I have a few recently released poems in two works of print: From the Waist Down: The Body in Healthcare (Papeachu Press) and Consequence Forum’s Volume 14.2. As for what’s in the works, I am continuing to chase the dream of publishing my first collection of essays and submitting individual pieces when I find the right homes for them.

ARK: We are glad this piece found its home with Arkana! Thank you for visiting with us!

MWK: I am beyond honored to answer your questions and have a journal engaging with my work on this level. Thank you!

ARK: We are equally excited to have your work available to our readers, editors, and friends in the literary community.

Read “to the pretty brunette in group therapy at the psych ward” here!


Molly Wadzeck Kraus is a freelance writer, poet, and essayist. Born and raised in Waco, Texas, she moved to the Finger Lakes region of New York, where she worked in animal rescue and welfare for many years. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Trouvaille Review, Papeachu Press, Litbreak Magazine, among others.

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Erin Townsend

Arkana Editors chatted with writer and Editor’s Choice Award winner Erin Townsend. Her fiction piece, “Stitches,” is featured in Arkana’s 12th Issue.


Arkana: This piece beautifully addresses the difficult subject of having to watch a loved one suffer. Does this stem from personal experience?

Erin Townsend: Sort of – there are personal elements present for sure, but as with all of my fiction, things have been changed, added to, subtracted from, embellished, etcetera. It started with some truth and grew into something else. My dad is fine, is what I’m saying. 

ARK: Maps continue to show up as a motif throughout this story, seemingly as a way for the main character to attempt to exert control over an uncontrollable situation (especially when the GPS is wrong near the end). What was the significance of using maps as a way for the narrator to connect with her father?

ET: Well, there’s the foremost connection of trying to find a kind of “path” to another person, both the narrator and their father being lost to one another, in some way. And you’re definitely right about that sense of trying to control something uncontrollable. I also liked the parallel it afforded to the mapping of memories and the way that worked with the more literal mapping of a brain; it had a lot of built-in complications that I was excited to explore.

ARK: In the story, you play with form as a way to skip around in time. We loved how this enabled you to handle each moment so delicately. What made you decide to write this as a series of vignettes?

ET: I’m partial to vignettes for different reasons, but for this story specifically, the piecemeal approach seemed like a good representation of the father-daughter relationship here: composed of snippets, not quite whole. And in some sense, each vignette ended up feeling like a point of interest on a map, which I liked as well. 

ARK: How did you choose the order and arrangement of the vignettes?

ET: This very rarely happens in my pieces, but I think the order of the vignettes in the final piece is the same order I wrote them in initially. It very much felt like an association game; I wanted them to be roughly chronological while still allowing for memories to bleed through where they felt most natural.

ARK: The narrator and her father use humor to cope with their situation. Does this mark a change in their relationship, or have they always communicated in this way? In some ways, is she already mourning the loss of her father before he’s gone?

ET: I imagined that they have always communicated this way; it’s an exercise in trying to connect while still maintaining emotional distance. Despite this new tragedy, they keep resorting to old habits and still can’t quite connect the way that they want to, or feel they should. And definitely, the narrator is mourning here. Not just because the future loss is now immediately inevitable but also for the slow changes over time and what that steals from their relationship, from her memories of her father, or even from what their relationship could have been. 

ARK: In addition to your work with Arkana, are there any other publications or projects you are excited about? What are you working on now?

ET: For sure! I was fortunate enough to be a part of a collaboration with the Frick museum recently, so I have a story coming out in a collection they’re doing at the end of March, which I’m very excited about. And right now, I’m working on a novel (I assume this is required by law, but if anyone knows any loopholes, let me know), which I hope to finish a full draft of by the end of my in-residency fellowship here at NYU. Fingers crossed!

ARK: Regarding Ingres: Fourteen Short Stories with an introduction by Darin Strauss will release in March 2023. This collaboration sounds very exciting!

ET: I just wanted to thank everyone at Arkana for all the support! This has been a really lovely experience, and I appreciate everything you’re doing and have done. 

ARK: We would like to thank you as well! We love to get excited about the work our artists are doing and help in any way we can to connect readers to writers; those connections include our editors’ own personal discoveries. We will keep our fingers crossed for your novel draft and look forward to more of your work in the future!

Read “Stitches” here!


Erin Townsend is a Brooklyn-based writer. Her work has been featured in the Long River Review, Paper Droids Magazine, and others, and has received the Jennie Hackman Award for short fiction. Currently, she is finishing her last year of an MFA at New York University.

Looking to the Literary World

The Key to a Literary Journal’s Survival in a Digital Era Without Limits

By Charles Franklin Quaas

For any literary journal in circulation today, be it print or press, sustainability is frequently tied to visibility. In a time in which new journals begin and old ones fold, a journal’s ability to not only sustain its current readership but attract new readers is key to its survival. Data collected by the Association of American Publishers and posted in Publishers Weekly shows during the pandemic years, sales were up across the board in nearly all major categories. When offered the time to read, people did just that, be it in print or online. But as we transition to a post-pandemic landscape in publishing, how can journals already struggling to maintain their relevancy capitalize on this renewed passion for the written word?


Several trends mentioned by Andrea Firth in her post on Jane Friedman’s blog “How the Literary Journal Landscape Is and Isn’t Changing” emphasize the “visual accessibility” of journals today. Simply put, this argues a magazine’s greatest challenge is not the quality of its work or what is included within the pages but how these are shown to the audience. A journal’s format, lettering, layout, and design must connect in a way to separate itself from its peers. These can include having audio versions of its stories as Arkana does or by diversifying its content, as Frith mentions with the Scoundrel Time, a journal that also publishes “original songs that people record and send in.”


But that is not to say the pieces within a publication should be allowed to suffer. All forms of literature should strive to include works that reflect the mission of their editing teams. It means nothing for a magazine to be aesthetically pleasing only. If a potential reader sees enough to deem a journal worth their time, we as literary editors must reward their interest with only the highest quality work. And if we, as the editors, receive a submission worthy of publication but not right for our journal, we must redouble our efforts to find another which does.

And it’s this interaction, this sense of community, of belonging, which will allow a journal to survive as long as it can in our current capitalist-based system. A journal’s mission is to create art, not profits, but as Firth discusses, everything from supply-chain issues to budget cuts have driven many respectable publications out of business. Many of these have a legacy beyond their immediate readership, and where they failed, perhaps the plethora of new publications created during the pandemic can succeed by fostering a community tapped into not only their readership but the local, regional, or statewide art scene. Everything from literature to painting could be discussed, be it current events or things that happened a hundred years ago. By finding these voices and bringing them to the forefront so a discussion can be fostered, magazines without the national limelight, such as Arkana, can be to its community what a newspaper is to its readers.

A chance for everyone to be seen.


Charles Franklin Quaas is a first-semester MFA student at the University of Central Arkansas. Currently residing in Conway, when not outdoors, he spends his time in the worlds of De Lint, Windling, and Tolkien.

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Melissent Zumwalt

Arkana Editors chatted with artist, advocate, and writer Melissent Zumwalt. Her creative nonfiction piece, “It All Happens at a McDonald’s,” is featured in Arkana’s 12th Issue.


Arkana: What role does reflection play in your writing process?

Melissent Zumwalt: The themes and moments I choose to write about have often been spinning around in my head for years (and sometimes decades!), so reflection on events that happened, what they mean to me and those around me, and how they relate to larger societal contexts, is an intrinsic part of the writing process for me. Although, I don’t typically use a lot of reflection on the page itself. I’m more interested in creating a setting or a moment that a reader can step into and then reflect upon the events for themselves. That’s what I’ve always loved about reading, the ability to enter other worlds and vantage points and imagine what it would look and feel like, what sense I might make out of a situation. Because of this, I think my writing might read a little more like fiction sometimes than memoir. I’ve been experimenting with imbuing a bit more meaning-making and written reflection into some of my pieces lately, though.

ARK: “It All Happens at a McDonald’s” mentions that your dream was to become a professional dancer. What drew you to writing?

MZ: My mom was my first dance teacher, but she was also an inadvertent storyteller (about her own life and our larger family and their past) with a real knack for recounting the ridiculous and the tragic. As I grew up, it was a natural transition to informally telling family stories myself since I’d always seen that modeled. So, I’ve had this love of story as long as I’ve had a love of dance.

But dance is a physical art form and naturally becomes limited by time. I remember a desire to write my family’s stories from a young age, but making the decision to focus on dance in my youth, with the idea I could work on writing “later.” As I’ve gotten older and dance has taken a different place in my life, I’m grateful to have writing as a creative outlet.

ARK: The ending of “It All Happens at a McDonald’s” cuts off after the narrator asks to give money to the man in the drive-through. Why choose to end the piece there instead of after she approaches him?

MZ: If I ended after the narrator interacted with the man, it felt a little too tidy for me—like the completed interaction would signal some sort of resolution. Because the struggle of the narrator and her family, of that man by the drive-thru, of the people of our country (because I think of this piece—situated in McDonald’s—as a snapshot of many), are ongoing and I didn’t want things to feel solved by a single gesture.

ARK: In addition to setting, what themes inspire your writing?

MZ: Family, always family. I am continually moved by the beauty and tragedy and humor of my family. Their dynamics and complexities are an endless source of inspiration for my writing.

ARK: Most of your works are creative nonfiction essays. Do you also write in other genres?

MZ: At this time, I only write creative nonfiction. But in the future, I’m interested to try fiction or autofiction. There are strands of people or events in my life that I’m fascinated by and would like to explore through writing, but I don’t know enough of the historical facts to render them as nonfiction.  

ARK: In addition to your work with Arkana, are there any other publications or projects you are excited about? What are you working on now?

MZ: For the last few months, I’ve been working on some flash pieces, trying to gain a better understanding of the form. I love flash, how authors take a seed of a moment or a thought and spin it into something vast and profound.

ARK: Thank you for sharing with us!

Read “It All Happens at a McDonald’s” here!


Melissent Zumwalt is an artist, advocate and administrator who lives in Portland, Oregon. Her written work has appeared in the Whisk(e)y Tit JournalFull Grown PeopleAtticus Review, Pithead Chapel, Longridge Review and elsewhere. Read more at: melissentzumwalt.com