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

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.

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:

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Annie Lyall Slaughter

In the Spring of 2022, Arkana Editors chatted with writer Annie Lyall Slaughter. Her creative nonfiction piece, “Putting the Fear Behind” is featured in Arkana’s 11th Issue as the Editor’s Choice Award winner.

Arkana: Tell us about your intentional decision to begin your piece with a disclaimer. Relatedly, do you make it a consistent practice to change the names of your characters, especially when threatening or disrupting topics are being explored? Or is this your general practice when writing creative nonfiction, as a genre?

Annie Lyall Slaughter: When writing creative nonfiction, I typically try to keep all the information in my stories as close to the truth as possible, including the names of my characters. That said, for this particular piece, I didn’t ask the family’s permission to write the piece and wanted to respect their confidentiality, given the fact that they arrived to New York on refugee visas. Although they are no longer my clients (I have since left the resettlement agency), I felt it would’ve been a breach of trust to include their names in this story without their explicit permission. Not to mention, I wanted to keep them safe.

ARK: When you look back on the situation you were in, would you have been able to keep hold of hope if Ayesha and Sharif hadn’t reacted the way they did?

ALS: A loaded question! Ayesha and Sharif went on to secure an apartment in Little Pakistan largely on their own, thanks to the help of their family friends in the area. I couldn’t have done it without them. Although I went on to support countless families throughout nearly two years in the role, I would be lying if I said it wasn’t an everyday battle to maintain composure and hold on to hope. The exorbitant price of rentals in New York City paired with the lack of federal funding in the refugee resettlement program creates insurmountable challenges for refugees who resettle in the New York City metropolitan area. As a result, resettlement staff—required by law to help newly arrived families find a home—are left scrambling, constantly trying to patch the holes of a larger systemic issue that needs addressing.

ARK: Would you say that the situation then would be similar today or in the near future, or how do you think it has changed?

ALS: Although I am no longer working in refugee resettlement, from what I understand, little has changed. There was (and still is) a huge shortage of housing in the fall when hundreds of Afghan evacuees arrived in the city. There are some truly wonderful people and organizations doing great work to support refugees in NYC, but unfortunately, the housing market is relentless, and the cost of living has only increased here since COVID-19. On a more positive note, I’d like to acknowledge the incredible work of Ruth’s Refuge, a Brooklyn-based organization dedicated to supplying moving services and furnishings for refugee and asylee families. Thanks to their services, many newly arrived refugee families are able to save up to $1,000 in expenses towards furniture and home goods.

ARK: How did you come to realize that creative nonfiction called you and that you enjoyed writing within this genre?

ALS: I’ve always loved to journal. As a child, I would write stories when something unimaginable or exciting happened to me. (I’ve always felt a creative urge to put pen to page.) But it wasn’t until I started working at the IRC that I realized just how much material there is to write about in the immediate world around me. Now, I’m working towards a master’s in journalism, learning how to combine my own personal experiences with reporting to comment on larger social, cultural, and political trends.

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?)

ALS: As an M.A. student in NYU’s Cultural Reporting and Criticism program, I’m currently working on a long-form essay analyzing the history of naming traditions (onomastics) in the American South, through the lens of my own double name “Annie Lyall”. Actually, I’m also working on another creative nonfiction piece about my time at the International Rescue Committee… I can’t seem to get away from it!

Ark: Thank you for sharing with us and congratulations again on the Editor’s Choice Award!

Read “Putting the Fear Behind” here!

Annie Lyall Slaughter is a writer based in Manhattan. From September 2019 to March 2021, she secured twenty-one apartment units for refugee families while working for the International Rescue Committee in New York City. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism at NYU.

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Rosetta Marantz Cohen

Arkana Editors chatted with writer, artist, and professor, Rosetta Marantz Cohen. Her poem, “Spartan Woman” is featured in Arkana’s 11th Issue.

Featured Artwork: “Self-Portrait,” by Rosetta Marantz Cohen

Arkana: “Spartan Woman” is reminiscent of an otherworldly epic that draws you into its lyrical narrative and demands your careful attention throughout. How do you, as a poet, approach a lengthier and more detailed piece like this one? Does that approach differ from how you might write more condensed work?

Rosetta Marantz Cohen: The complexity of the subject seemed to demand I write a long poem, one that spans a woman’s entire lifespan. I wrote the poem in sections; each, initially, had its own title. Once I finished, I realized the titles weren’t necessary, that the poem told a coherent and chronological story. 

I had never written such a long poem before. I consider myself a formal poet, and those forms (sonnets, villanelles, sestinas, etc.) often dictate their own lengths. I’d thought I liked the constraints of formal poetry, but I found it very freeing to write this poem without any kind of metrical constraints. …Though I suppose that staying true to the historical sources I was using substituted one form of constraint for another.

Ark: Much of “Spartan Woman” includes references to life in Sparta. How did you approach researching for this piece? Is research a primary facet of your other work as well?

RMC: Though my reading often inspires ideas for poems, I’ve never before used such extensive primary and secondary research in composing.  During the pandemic, when I was confined to the house, I became interested in reading a lot of history, and specifically about women in the past who pushed back against their constricted lives—rule-breakers and outsiders. “Spartan Woman” grew out of some fascinating reading about this very alien culture where everything in the society was focused on war, and where women were useful only in their capacity to create more male soldiers. My favorite source was Sarah Pomeroy’s Spartan Women, which describes in great detail some of the odd practices that were considered normal in Spartan society, including infanticide and the cross-dressing of young brides.  

Building a life story from historical research was so satisfying and engrossing for me that I continued the series, writing several more lengthy poems about other “outsider” women—a medieval anchoress, a woman in Salem during the witch trials, a pioneer schoolteacher. Each of these long poems have been built on primary and secondary research and the whole process allows you to become immersed in the character you are creating so that I’ve come to feel I know them as real people. 

Ark: Where did the inspiration for the piece come from?

RMC: As a professor of Education with a focus on women’s education in the developing world, I have been teaching for many years about the lives of women struggling against social constraints, poverty, prejudice. Until this year, I had never thought to turn life stories into poems. Once I started writing about this character—this woman from Sparta in 600 BCE—I saw the links between my academic work and my poem. Her difficulties were not wholly unlike the barriers women face today in some parts of the world.

Ark:  How did you go about revising “Spartan Woman?” Is the finished piece similar to the original draft, or did the piece undergo many changes?

RMC: I knew I wanted the poem to have multiple sections, each dealing with another pivotal moment in the speaker’s life. I revised a good deal. My husband is an English professor and he is my best critic. He catches every word that is “off” and he is (almost) always right. So I do revise with the input from a trusted critic. It always amazes me how “good” a line can sound when you first write it, and how “wrong” it seems the following day.

Ark: So, what are you working on now?

RMC: Right now I am finishing a book of five long poems based on the subjects I note above—the anchoress, the pioneer teacher, the witch, and also a contemporary woman who is herself an outsider from the dominant culture. What I have found is that all these voices have become linked in surprising ways. They share a kind of visionary capacity—an ability to see themselves outside the norms and restrictions of their time and place. They also share a deep sense of loneliness. They (we) have become a kind of sisterhood of misfits.

Ark: Thank you for sharing with us!

Read “Spartan Woman” here!

Rosetta Marantz Cohen is the author of two prize-winning chapbooks of poetry, Domestic Scenes (Foothills) and The Town of Insomniacs (Finishingline), and four scholarly books. She is the Myra M. Sampson Professor of Education at Smith College.

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Alyea Pierce

Arkana Editors visited with Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow & Explorer, Alyea Pierce. Her poems “28 Days” and “Return” are featured in Arkana’s 11th Issue.

Arkana: What are some of the earliest poems or poets you read? What artists inspire you today?

Alyea Pierce: I have a hunger for engaging with 20th and 21st-Century Afro-Caribbean, Latinx, and African-American Literature with focus areas in poetry, female mobility, migration, performance, critical ethnography research, and racial, cultural, and sexual empowerment.  This passion was ignited via fiction authors like Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Angie Thomas, Sandra Cisneros, Earl Lovelace, and Derek Walcott, as well as poets like Jamaica Kincaid, Audre Lord, Edwidge Danticat, Olive Senior, Maya Angelou, Vanessa Angelica Villareal, Patricia Smith, and SO MANY MORE!  Their pieces created and continue to create this space for Black folx across the diaspora to reimagine ourselves and history. 

Ark: The layout of “28 Days” is visually stunning. What reader effect were you hoping for through the combination of language and layout?

AP: The combination of language and layout of “28 Days” is built from the main theme of this poem.  This piece is about Black History Month and the limited time allotted to celebrating Black life, so already there is a contrast.  The reader experiences distance, moments of silence, waiting/wading, breath, and pausing and is forced to engage with blackness and history.  I want the reader to take their time through this.  I love that the lines are separated and come together at the line, “I want Black women in white” because even that line is a contrast. 

Ark: In your poem, “Return,” the line, “I am stretching / and I can no longer fit within this poem” is fascinating and evocative. Can you speak to a time when you were drafting a piece and found that your ideas, themes, or voices in a piece were larger or more complex than initially envisioned?

AP: Writing is an interesting process.  As we are thinking about the words we intend to write, we are simultaneously editing them and editing them and editing them again.  I remember writing a piece on womanhood and how guilt roots in women, sits in us, and then one day we are apologizing for entering a room.  My poems often play with time and space, so I definitely struggle with what is my entry point into the scene, what voices need to be in this poem or where am I right now.  And that is when I must take a step back and ask myself, why am I writing this?  What started in me originally to put pen to paper about this topic?  O.K, now let’s start from there.

Ark:  How much would you say that your faith comes through in your writing?

AP: I view faith in several different ways through my writing. For example, 1) Religious faith; 2) Spiritual faith; 3) Personal faith in myself, others, and things.  Not only am I an emerging writer, but I am an emerging human in this world.  As I am discovering my own religious/spiritual/faith beliefs, my writing will reflect that deep, internal work of what I will stand by and what will stand by me. As of now, I am focusing on the exploration of faith on various levels. 

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

AP: Currently, I am a poet and researcher for a new National Geographic six-part podcast series, “Into the Depths”.  It follows National Geographic Explorer, Tara Roberts, as she follows Black scuba divers across the world searching for buried shipwrecks from the transatlantic slave trade when millions of enslaved Africans were trafficked to the Americas during the 15th to the 19th centuries.  Roberts sets off on the journey of a lifetime to meet the divers, marine archaeologists, descendants of those brought over on ships, and historians investigating the lost stories of the slave trade.  Our hope in doing this work is to share their accounts both to expand the historical record and to honor the estimated 1.8 million unsung souls who perished during the Middle Passage. 

Ark: Thank you for sharing with us!

Read “28 Days” and “Return” here!

Alyea Pierce is a Fulbright-National Geographic Fellow & Explorer, educator, and poet. Pierce has performed her spoken word poetry internationally from the UK to South Africa and at numerous TEDx events. Her work has been published online and in print, including The GuardianNew York Daily NewsCaribbean WriterAutism Speaks, to name a few. As an educator, her mission is to help students transform creative ideas into professional voices, empowering diverse learners to be leaders within their own communities.

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Janet Kenney

Arkana Editors visited with playwright Janet Kenney. Her creative nonfiction work, “What Else but Grace,” is featured in Arkana’s 11th Issue.

Arkana: “What Else But Grace” is part of a longer project. Can you give us an overview of the book-length work?

Janet Kenney: Around 1980, we saw signs of illness. Six long years later, we had a diagnosis: lupus. I did not take it well. The story is about all the wild and many catastrophes I’ve endured, and the many tree roots I tripped over as I made bumbling attempts to grow up, earn some grace and live a good life anyway. It’s told in a series of chapters and updates; in updates, I share some of the issues and events that occurred while I was writing the book. The updates, I hope, will help readers understand a little about what chronic feels like. And I cannot tell my story without including my little white fluffy mutt, Grace.

Ark: “What Else But Grace” recalls a situation you experienced over thirty years ago, yet feels timely and fresh in the essay. What inspired you to return to this event and tell this story today?

JK: I have Irish blood, both sides, all the way back; I’m a natural-born storyteller. I know a good story when I live one.

Ark: The style in which you write takes the reader all across New York, causing a bit of the traveling fatigue and confusion that your main character relays as limbs become heavy and tired. Was this intentional, this shared burden of movement?

JK: What a powerful question. It was my intention to make the feelings from inside a body with such illness clear, nearly tangible, to the reader.

There’s a continuity between the morning and afternoon sensations—the gown, the tiara, the dull ache, the children’s shouts and then, later, we’re still in the details: the woman’s red cheeks, the sneakers, the policeman’s eyes. I’m trying to help folks stay connected even though they might want to back away.

Ark:  How does your background in theatre influence your writing?

JK:  Dialogue is action, we say in playwriting. There’s a lot of dialogue in the piece—more than might be expected for a memoir. I think the way people speak reveals their outer and inner lives, their true charm, or their ill-will, and that delights me. We also say that character is everything. My dad, my doctor, and my dog are major characters in the book. Theater teaches you how to entertain an audience. Laughter leaves you open to the next moment. In theater, you cultivate timing, authenticity, and vulnerability. Anything can happen. Live. I hope the book is live – always capable of surprising you.

Ark: In addition to your work with Arkana, are there any other publications or projects you are excited about?

JK: During the height of the pandemic, I had a quiet life that gave me time to write a new full-length play, Cape Haven. (Even with all that time, I’m just recently feeling it’s finished!) It’s set in the family house on Cape Cod over an August weekend in 2019, six years after the Boston Marathon bombing. Lou lost part of her leg in the bombing and she and each of her family members all face more unbearable loss. I think it’s one of the things that binds humans to each other—surviving loss.

Ark: We wish you well with your new play and look forward to seeing “What Else but Grace” in a book-length work in print in the future! Thank you for sharing with us!

Read “What Else but Grace” here!

Janet Kenney is an award-winning playwright whose plays have been produced from Boston to Alaska. She spent the pandemic year writing her new full-length play, Cape Haven. She has a Masters in Playwriting/English from Boston University and a BA in Theater Arts from the University of Massachusetts/Boston. She teaches ESOL for fun.

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Holly Day

Arkana Editors visited with instructor and poet Holly Day. Her poems, “Testing One” and “The Pond,” are featured in Arkana’s 11th Issue.

Arkana: Your pieces challenge the reader to slow down and take in the natural surroundings, animals, and sounds of the poetic environment you are creating. What are you hoping readers will experience by taking it all in and “put[ting their] ear to the ground”?

Holly Day: Exactly that—just to stop and look around, take notice of little things, take a breath. I have a fascination with the personal relativity of time, and how some activities make time slow down, while others make it go by too fast. You would be surprised how amazingly long a day feels if you spend the whole time just walking and observing and just being a part of everything. This is only a comfort if you want time to go by slowly, of course. Some people seem to want it all to be over as quickly as possible.

Ark: “Testing One” features a government testing site in the desert. What drew you to write about this sort of location?

HD: I had several family members on my mother’s side that quite possibly developed very aggressive cancers in the 1940s from observing nuclear bomb tests in New Mexico before they knew/admitted that they had miscalculated the “safe distance” from those tests. That, and growing up during Reagan’s Cold War, one always worried about bombs going off.

Ark: What kinds of works and which poets have served you well in your writing career and in what capacities?

HD: I try to read everything, but I would say I’m especially drawn to the exquisite melodrama of Victorian poets like Elizabeth Barret Browning and John Keats. I’ve never had much luck writing decent form poetry, but I like to read it.

Ark:  Do you dabble in other genres or do you mainly focus your creative efforts on poetry?

HD:  I’ve written everything from ad copy to feature writing to technical writing to fiction and poetry. The first three pay way better than the last two. Now that my house is paid off and my youngest is preparing to go to college, I’m trying to spend more time writing poetry and fiction because that is where my heart is.

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?

HD:  I’m slowly but surely finishing writing the first draft of a novel, which has been a lot of fun. I’m trying to avoid looking for or thinking about new nonfiction book projects since there seems to always be one of those waiting to suck up more of my time, but other than that, just trying to spend more time writing the fun stuff. 

Ark: We wish you luck while you carve out that time to write the projects of your heart! Thank you for sharing with us!

Read “Testing One” and “The Pond” here!

Holly Day ( has been an instructor at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis since 2000. Her writing has recently appeared in Hubbub, Grain, and Third Wednesday, and her newest books are The Tooth is the Largest Organ in the Human Body (Anaphora Literary Press), Book of Beasts (Weasel Press), Bound in Ice (Shanti Arts), and Music Composition for Dummies (Wiley).

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: L Mari Harris

Arkana Editors were excited to chat with L Mari Harris about her process and story inspiration. Her microfiction piece, “Highlights From the First Hour of Tradio at 88.5FM,” is featured in Arkana’s 11th Issue.

Arkana: “Highlights” is a work of microfiction. What is your process in writing with this medium to create the most impact with so few words?

L Mari Harris: In the simplest terms, you want the most bang for your buck. When I begin a new piece, my first draft is free-flow and is usually about three times its final length. Then, with subsequent drafts, I start to whittle it down, first getting rid of unnecessary weight, be that exposition or imagery. And as I revise, I also add. As I listen to the piece in my head, new imagery arises. It’s all a weaving process as I build what I am ultimately happy with, what ultimately speaks to what I hope to show readers.

Ark: What inspired you to write this piece in this format?

LMH: There really is a morning call-in show in my rural Ozarks county where people buy, sell, and trade. Many of the calls are your average “I have a Ford F150 for sale”, but some of them include the caller’s story of why they’re calling, and they will break your heart. While everything in this micro is fiction, the host really does say, “I don’t make the rules, I just follow them, folks” every time someone calls in to sell a handgun. Long guns are legal to advertise, but short guns are not, and the host is constantly reminding callers they can’t advertise short guns for sale and he’ll interrupt them if they start to say they have a pistol or revolver for sale. I hear it at least once a day, and I just had to use it.

Ark: When writing this piece, did you have a particular community or location in mind? Do you have experiences or memories that might speak to the tight-knit community feel of the calls being received and the dialers making those calls?

LMH: We are about as rural as you can get. The largest town is 40 miles away, and it’s a whopping 22,000. If you break down on one of the roads, sit tight because a farmer will eventually drive by and fix you right up. We have a wonderful community kitchen where seniors and anyone else needing companionship and a hot meal can go free of charge every day of the week. If someone says they need help cutting firewood or patching their roof, a half dozen strangers will show up. I’m proud of how we look out for each other without asking for anything in return.

Ark:  What led to your decision to highlight, in particular, the first hour of a radio show as opposed to the third or fourth hour? What kinds of tones and messages were you hoping to capture by featuring the first hour’s calls?

LMH: The first hour of the real call-in show is always the most unpredictable and most prone to backstories from the callers. It’s supposed to be a two-hour show every weekday, but sometimes the calls dry up, and the host will just segue into a Judds song without explanation. I love the drama of never knowing what’s coming next.

Ark: In addition to your work with Arkana, are there any other publications or projects you are excited about?

LMH: I’ve been getting two chapbooks of flash fiction ready for spring contests, I have about a dozen different flash and micro drafts in process, and I’m working on a longer story, also inspired by true events. Right now, I only have two pieces I’ve submitted to journals this year. Last year was so incredibly busy for me with my day job that I ran out of unpublished material to submit. It feels like I’m starting from scratch, and that’s a fun place for me to be right now like the entire world is just waiting to open up for me again.

Ark: We can’t wait to see what windows and doors open and where they might lead! Thank you for sharing with us!

Read “Highlights From the First Hour of Tradio at 88.5FM” here!

L Mari Harris’s most recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in No Contact, matchbook, Milk Candy Review, CRAFT, Okay Donkey, among others. She works in the tech industry and lives in the Ozarks. Follow her on Twitter @LMariHarris and read more of her work at