An Excerpt from Mental Illness and the Poetics of Failure

Brief musings on costumes, artists, and mental illness.

by Drew S. Cook, Poetry Reader

A surprising number of photographs of people dressing like Sylvia Plath for Halloween can be found via a Google image search. One might ask: what does a Sylvia Plath costume look like? I imagine her 1953 interview of Elizabeth Bowen for Mademoiselle. In the months leading up to the interview, she shopped voraciously, feeling a tremendous pressure to not only give a good interview, but to meet the standards of appearance that were aggressively asserted both by Mademoiselle and society at large. Despite the pressure, Plath delivered in terms of both substance and form, nailing her first interview for the magazine, to which she wore a highly fashionable dress, fitted jacket, pearls, and gloves.

If we accept The Bell Jar as autobiography, then the entire Mademoiselle-New York adventure is prelude to a significant mental health crisis. Yet, this is Sylvia Plath. Driven by self-loathing and genius to persist, to outshine, to overcome, Plath’s smile seems genuine in the photos that remain of that momentous occasion—after months of certainty that she will fail, she discovers that she is knocking it out of the park. This is the smile of a mentally ill person who has, yet again, kept herself alive in the land of the sane. Three years before her fateful encounter with Olympic-tier gaslighter Ted Hughes, Plath is a young woman who, on her own in the big city, survives. She despairs, she is outside, she is neurodivergent, but she belongs wholly to herself.

The iconic moment with Bowen is not the costume, though, that Halloween celebrants choose. To them, Sylvia Path is a woman—any woman—with a cardboard, mocked-up oven over her head. Plath is only her suicide, only her sickness. She is not even a poet anymore. Instead, she is just a joke about a chronic, sometimes fatal condition known as bipolar disorder.

Plath’s story offers a cautionary tale to mentally ill artists. No matter one’s achievements, no matter the effort, to write as a mentally ill person is to expose oneself to ridicule from bad actors, and uninvited psychoanalysis from the well-meaning. It is, in the terminology of feminist rhetorical theory, to subject oneself to “containment.” One can no longer write about a thing; rather, one is perceived as writing from a place.


Drew SCook is many things: an expert in obsolete operating systems, a student of literature and poetry, a psychiatrically disabled person. He is other things, too, and grew up in the Ouachita Mountains, whose sights and sounds continue to inform his writing. Drew is currently a Co-Executive Editor at Trio House Press. His poems have appeared in Nimrod Journal, Pleiades, and elsewhere.
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Writing is Life

A proclamation of the writing life.

by Victoria Mays, Scriptwriting Editor

One day, we will all pause and ask ourselves: Did I truly live the life I desired?  Am I satisfied with where I am?  Did I make the most of my time?  At the young age of 23, I am already asking myself these questions.  Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I expressed my interest and passion for writing, but I was afraid to embrace and become it.  In consequence, I allowed myself to be sidetracked and influenced by what other people wanted me to do and their perceptions of what a “successful” career was.  In journeying on their path, I lost myself.  I stopped writing.  I stopped dreaming.  I stopped living.

For awhile, I felt like I was an alien in this world.  I was just going through the motions.  When I brought writing back into my life, I became reacquainted with myself and started to create my place in this world.  During this time and even to this day, writing is teaching me more about myself.  It has taken me places within that I never knew existed.  Writing is a part of me.

While having the passion for writing is great and necessary, having the skills and knowledge of writing is just as important.  For this reason, I decided to pursue my MFA in Creative Writing.  I know that being a part of the program will provide me with professors that are experienced, have a passion for writing, and a desire to inspire others to write.  It will also connect me with other aspiring and creative writers.  When working towards a goal, it is wise to have people in your corner who are like-minded and want the same thing.  I want my writings to be more than pieces of paper or journals hidden away in a chest or cardboard box.  I want to share them with the world.  In my lifetime, I want to publish several books and writings.  In order to be the very best that I can be, I must invest in proper training and education.  So far, being in my MFA program has truly be an enriching and educational experience for me.  There are certain things about writing that I have yet to learn, but am eager to learn.  I am confident that the MFA program will provide me with the necessary skills and opportunities to really strengthen and improve my writing.

As an author, I want to inspire people to discover their true identity, liberate themselves, and overcome challenges.  Writing is food and oxygen to my being.  One of the things that truly nourishes my soul and satiates my desire to uncover my innermost self.  Writing is the key to the lock that secures the gates around me. Writing is life because without it, my life seems like a neverending void. Through writing, I truly become myself. I become the light that breaks through my self-inflicted darkness.  I become a creator.  By writing, I feel liberated and loved.


Victoria Mays is pursuing a MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Central Arkansas.  She is a freelance editor and writer.  When she’s not crafting stories, she is inspiring people through her blog, Soul-Liberation.

Page or Pixel

An exploration of how, because of technology, times in the publishing industry are a-changing.

by C.F. Lindsey, Fiction Reader

Fellow Arkanasans, let’s talk digital. We, in case you were unaware, live in a world of pixels. Life is defined by our online presences and the content which we post. Your life—as of this moment—is consumed by the words I am presenting to you on your computer screen. Let’s take a moment to marvel in this amazing process: my thoughts are being presented to you, from far and wide, via a piping of digital content through space and time to compile in front of your face in the form of constantly-firing-pixels, delineating visual expression to your cognitive reality. This is an amazing process, beyond my meager comprehension as a mere purveyor of words; however, it presents a question to me as a curator of the literary form: what is the future of literature within this digital age? Editor of the journal AGNI, Sven Birkerts—in his article “Reading the Tea Leaves: Notations on the Changing Look of the Literary”, states “Change itself is changing” (3). What does this mean for our futures, dear writers? One thing is for certain in that the future is quite simple: we can adapt to change or be swept underneath the rug of society. In the words of the Nobel Prize winner in Literature Bob Dylan, “for the times they are a-changin’.”

Now, I want to start with addressing the groaning feeling of despair that some of you, if you are anything like me, might be feeling when it comes to this subject. As someone who studies classic, canonical literature, and has an extreme love for the feel of paper between my fingers, this concept of a digital take-over can seem quite bleak. What does this mean for the classic practice of leafing through a novel or the sleek, glossy pages of your favorite lit mag? Birkerts, on the one hand, would lead you to believe that this is an abysmal move that surely spells out the doom of the literary arts as we know it. The key phrase here is “as we know it.” Is the changing of literature a bad thing? I particularly think not, but you have your own opinions, dear readers. In his article, Birkerts discusses a subway trip on his way to the airport while thinking on the matter of change. He says that this digital change “…was already in place. Every person in that car was either staring at a phone or reading pad, or standing with a faraway look in her eyes and a wire in her ear” (6). The change is happening or already has happened, friends. The way we communicate, disseminate information, speak, hear, see, the very fabric of human operation is changing. On one hand, this is exquisitely exhilarating in the means that we are breaking down barriers of differences and emerging in a world without definitions and classifications. We, the world, are becoming a community through the push of technological advancement. According to Birkerts, however, the one area that is lacking in this technological push is the literary. Birkerts discusses a 2014 article from the Washington Post by Matt McFarland discussing this lack of transformation when it comes to the publishing industry. “Technology has reshaped everything from how we communicate to how we find a mate or a job. Yet the experience of reading books remains largely untransformed, and the popularity of books has suffered in the face of flashier media formats that are perfected for our busy world” (9). Birkerts continues his discussion on this subject by stating how, without changing the way literature is presented to readers, the future will be bleak for writers and readers alike. The article, sadly, continues on this sorrowful tempo for the remainder of Birkerts discussion.

I don’t know about you, but I’m about ready for some good news right now after delving into such a pit of sorrow. There is hope, dear readers. Three articles discussing the same subject—from authors Matthew Stadler, Sandra Beasley, and Sian Cain—put a more positive spin on the moves of literature in the digital age. Beasley’s article, published through Poets and Writers, discusses the growing number of online literary journals, such as Arkana itself, versus the print journals that have always occupied the literary spectrum. This growth, as Beasley states, is not only visible in the number of online lit mags popping up, but how the “prestige” of publishing is shining through the scope of these online publications. In the past, let’s say 10 years ago, the game of publishing was dominated by print with the opportunity of online publishing being scoffed at as for the amateur writer. If you wanted to play in the literary game, you aimed to see your name in print. Today, however—according to Beasley, “…modern writers are increasingly defined by the work they have available online. Those serious about developing a career have to think about managing that virtual dimension” and the best way to accomplish this is to “…read online journals, evaluate them, and send them work you’re proud to have associated with your name” (Beasley 2).

There is no doubt that literature is shifting with the times, despite the beliefs of some, and this is good news for us. Another question to be considered, though: is this shift permanent? Matthew Stadler, in his article “The Ends of the Book: Reading, Economies and Publics,” believes in another possibility. He touches very minutely on the shift to online, instead tending to focus on reading/publishing versus shopping mentalities and how we, the literary community, have to abandon the latter to protect the former. His solution to the falling popularity of literary publishing is to implement an on-demand printing system. This seems to coincide with Sian Cain’s findings that—through a survey—62% of 16-24 year olds prefer reading from print, breaking from the rising popularity of online media. Whether this model will be of any effect on the literary community seems unlikely, but is yet to be determined.

Despite anyone’s preference between print or digital publishing, one thing is certain: the scape of the literary world is changing. Magazines, such as Arkana, are at the forefront of this movement by supplying a place for marginalized or unheard voices to make their opinions and beliefs known through the literary arts. No matter the shifts in the landscape of our community, I am confident that literature will thrive in magazines like Arkana, and many others, due to the passion that is put forth by the authors and publishers alike. I look forward to seeing where the future, and the growing opportunities in publishing, will take us. Until then, happy reading, my friends.


C.F. Lindsey is full-time writer and part-time fly fishing guide pursuing his MFA in Fiction at the University of Central Arkansas. After shirking a promising law career, C.F. hopped a train before landing on a riverbank where he began writing fiction. His works have been featured in The Wilderness House Literary Review, The Wagon Magazine, Heavy Feather Review, Nebo: A Literary Journal, and other online and print publications. He resides in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains with his wife and two dogs.

About

What pulses beneath the soil?  What do our roots seek when they dig deep? What sap rises in spring to feed the branches that reach for the stark sky?  Place an ear to the trunk of Arkana to hear the hushed voices at work beneath the bark.

This is Arkana’s blog.

In Defense: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to this Form

Converting a TV Script to an MFA Play—a tale about defending a Master’s Thesis.

by Jacqulyn West, Nonfiction Editor

In order to graduate with a Master of Fine Arts degree, you have to write, complete, and defend a thesis. Your committee guides you through the process of writing, and finally spends about an hour interrogating your work, at which point you answer their questions in order to defend the choices you made, and ultimately, the quality of your work.

Since the Arkansas Writers Workshop allows candidates flexibility in choosing a genre, these can look widely different from one another. These reports are based on my observations at the defenses of our upcoming graduates.

First up is Shua Miller, Arkana Scriptwriting Editor, who is the first in our program to write and defend a script for his thesis.

We gathered in a conference room on the third floor of Thompson Hall, the building where most of our Writing courses are conducted. The wide room is filled with long tables arranged in a U shape surrounded with big office-style armchairs.

Shua sat at the end of the left side of the U – the hour’s hot seat. His committee lined the outside to his right, and the audience took the other side of the room, filling the remaining seats on the opposite side. Many of us had completed our teaching and classes for the day, and came for the comedy we were sure would ensue. We were not disappointed.

Originally, Shua intended to write a TV series with an ensemble cast about some misadventures in a small Arkansas town in order to complete his MFA and create a script that could be filmed with the help of some talented folks across central Arkansas. That did not work out, but the descriptions of what he had planned had me laughing out loud only a few minutes into his defense. I won’t give any spoilers, just in case that opportunity manifests in future.

Shua’s thesis advisor insisted that the work he completed for the MFA would need a defined end point, but Shua didn’t want to end his TV show after only one season. Back to the drawing board, where he decided to table the TV idea and instead write a play to complete his degree.

Meanwhile, the November 2016 elections obstructed that plan. Shua says he heard from and about many outraged artists who couldn’t make art following the presidential election, and after some days of sorrow, rage, and reflection, decided to use his response to fuel yet another new trajectory for his work.

Shua thought a master’s thesis should be a little confusing and theatrical, but still had that quiet voice inside reminding him that simple is good, and encouraging him to use the skills he developed as a graduate student in writing, but the first draft of his play came out too pretentious. He actually created more work for himself by trying to make the work complicated instead of following his instinct to simplify, an instinct that had been honed by his coursework.

But how can classes about poetry and fiction inform and improve play writing?

Shua says they all tie into each other. From poetry, he learned an economical focus on images, and used that economy in constructing concise informative dialogue among his characters. Prose taught him how to describe efficiently by using fewer but better words. Both forms helped him understand pacing, diction, and word choice. Now he writes to find the musicality and rhythm of how his words can best fit together.

The play, tentatively titled “Stamp of Hope,” depicts an angel and a demon working in the bureaucratic behind-the-scenes offices of hell. This appeals to me in a serious and personal way because I was an administrative specialist for a university English department before coming to UCA to join this program. I already like this play.

“The things we imagine when we think of hell—fire and brimstone, tortures and flames— those things are like an amusement park. But someone has to do the paperwork in the office to make sure those things run. That’s what this play is about.”

I’m laughing through tears and squirming in my seat.

“This vision of hell is more like science fiction than traditional or Biblical depictions.”

I’m nodding so vigorously that my chair is squeaking.

“Most of all, I don’t want my audience to feel like I’m telling them what to think through the characters or the action.”

I’m wishing I had the means to produce this play, because I know there are people like me who would empathize, sympathize, and laugh – like me – through relatable tears. People who, like Shua’s unusual creatures – including the human office manager – are doing with their time, how they interact with each other, and their own internal struggles, and still manage to find hope in the most desolate of places and situations.

While some defenses can be intense grilling sessions, this one felt more like a conversation, dashed with smart office humor and enough humility to make it accessible to just about anyone on a scale from demon to angel.


Jacqulyn Harper West is a poet of unfinished parts who prefers writing nonfiction. Her heart is in classic country music, especially the Bakersfield sound, and her scholarship ranges from feminist explications of her hometown’s cultural heritage tourism sites to code-meshing and hip hop as texts in first-year and creative writing pedagogy.

Arkana Represents

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The Impact of AWP, Past and Present

by Mikayla Davis, Poetry Reader

In 2014 I attended my first AWP in Seattle, planning to meet up with one of my creative writing instructors and some classmates from community college. I didn’t know what to expect, having only ever been to anime conventions in the past. But I was just starting to think about grad school, and a writers’ convention seemed like the perfect place to explore my options. If nothing else, I knew my undergraduate institution would be in attendance. It would be nice to gather with old friends and get their take on my plans.

So I made my plans, booked my hotel, scheduled out what panels I wanted to attend. I drove five hours across my home state.

Turns out, planning for panels was a misguided decision—as I became completely enthralled by the Book Fair. There were rows upon rows of booths and tables. There were probably at least fifty tables in each row. They filled this huge hall.Graduate schools, magazine publishers, businesses. People were wandering around, buying books, talking to people behind booths. There were author signings and readings, though the latter couldn’t be heard over the buzz of conversation. I spent hours there, just wandering and looking…but I rarely actually approached the booths, and no one tried to draw me in.

Three years later, I had the opportunity to attend AWP again—this time, manning a booth representing the University of Central Arkansas’s MFA program, the C.D. Wright Women Writers’ Conference, and, of course, Arkana.

My one goal was to engage with participants who, like me in 2014, were just wandering…wanting to ask questions, but not knowing how.

But how does one motivate others to visit your booth, when your budget is limited, and you have three major organizations to try and promote?

This is where my many trips to anime conventions came in handy.

If you’ve never been to one, I can tell you that they are bright, loud, and incredibly exciting. Think about Harry Potter when he first visits Diagon Alley. You don’t know where to look because everything seems interesting. People were drawn to the booths that were there, because they managed to be bigger and brighter than the environment around them. The booths at anime conventions often have activities you can interact with. Whether it’s merchandise or games, there is always something you can put your hands on. When I attended AWP in 2014, most of the booths only promoted free merchandise. Nothing was particularly interactive.

Though AWP is a lot less visually stimulating than an anime convention, I still began to brainstorming the aesthetic of our booth. Arkana could afford to be a lot less flashy than an anime convention, and still be visually appealing.

In order to invite visitors to our booth, we included several items on our table. For vertical appeal, we had a large banner that advertised the conference. For horizontal, we also had a banner that stretched across the bottom of the table that presented us as the UCA MFA program. We had various flyers, informational papers, and even stickers on the booth tables.

We also had a “Poet-tree” made from the branches of an actual tree, that at first blended into the black curtain that served as our separator from other booths. But as visitors began writing on the green paper “leaves” we provided, and hung them on the tree, they provided eye-catching pops of color on the dark backgrounds.

The “Poet-Tree” also doubled as an activity, something we could invite passersby to contribute to. It was something no other booth had.

We had another highly visual activity to draw people in. One of the other faculty members at UCA had happened upon a bubble cup vending machine at a flea market. They later found some cups for that machine, and—luckily for us‚—she was willing to let us use it for our booth at AWP.

We filled the capsules with candy, excerpts from women writers and Arkana contributors, and stickers, and invited attendees to donate a couple of quarters to win the prize.

All of these things really encouraged others to visit our table. Throughout the event, we received comments about how we were the most interesting table they passed by.

But there was really only one thing that really made us successful. If we hadn’t acquired a “Poet-Tree,” or a vending machine, or even tables at all, we could have succeeded with just one thing…our people.

With toothy grins, we stood out in the walkways of the Book Fair, greeting anyone who walked by. We offered flyers, compliments, and conversation. We were almost impossible to ignore. If we were sitting behind the table, it was because we were on break, or needed more supplies to hand out.

We were passionately involved in the process of pulling people in, and it showed. It helped that we truly believed in the organizations we were prompting, and particularly, the mission of Arkana. Our booth was certainly one of the busiest tables, and perhaps one of the most engaging booths at AWP.

While I worked the booth, all I could think of was 2014 me stepping forward and really getting involved in the world of writing conventions and submissions. It was one of the most thrilling and exciting literary experiences of my life. I am already eagerly planning on how to improve our booth for next year.


Mikayla Davis is a UCA MFA candidate who specializes in poetry while dabbling in fiction. After getting her undergraduate degree at Eastern Washington University, she got lost in two-year business degrees from the local community college before finding her way back to the page. She has a love for cats and magic and has been published in various print and online journals.

Can We Make Money Like Web Comics?

A conversation paraphrased in comic form.

by Shua Miller, Scriptwriting Editor

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I formed all of my opinions from reading these articles:

“Web Comics Send Readers Looking for Books” by Douglas Wolk

“Web Comics: Page Clickers to Page Turners” by Heidi MacDonald

“Inside the Economics of Digital Comics with Todd Allen” by Rob Salkowitz

“Trotman Talks Templar” by Brigid Alverson

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Shua Miller is a candidate in the Arkansas Writers MFA Workshop and a producer/director/actor/designer/tech guy at The Lantern Theatre. He writes a little of everything, including about himself in the third person. You can follow his tweets of nonsense.

Print vs. Audio: A False Dichotomy?

On audio’s place in the world of literature.

by A. É. Coleman, Fiction Reader

I am attempting to answer a question.

In the November 2016 issue of JSTOR Daily, Rebecca Rego Barry discussed the history of audio books in its relationship to the future of print.  Initially, I dismissed the charge that “listening was ‘a lazy man’s way of reading’” as the luddite’s battle cry.  After all, Barry was referencing the initial response to the Library of Congress’ introduction of “talking books” in 1934.  That battle had long since been won I thought, and so, the antiquarian chest beating looked almost quaint in hindsight.

As I neared the end of the article though, I found philosophy professor, William Irwin quoted in 2009 as admitting that he hid his “audio habit” from colleagues as well as his more judgmental students for fear that they would see his taste for audio as a sign of the intellectual end times.  Upon further investigation, I discovered that Irwin wasn’t alone in his fear of social castigation.  Even scholars such as Jessica E. Moyer who specializes in YA reading habits has been occasionally fought skewed data that does not include YA listening habits seeing as how that’s not “real” reading.

It would appear, like some horrible rash, the luddites are not gone.  Nor is this irrational bias against audio in the face of print.  The great irony is that audio was the original story telling format.  Print is the beloved usurper.

Here then lies my question.  This mentality toward audio presentations of print works is so foreign to me that it is difficult to even address the topic.  What about audio technology elicits such hostility?  Surely it can’t be sloth since, by definition, such ire requires energy.  Granted, the pseudo-intellectual appeal of having something to thumb one’s nose at knows no bounds, but why has the target of this thumbing taken this particular shape?  And is there some aspect of this discussion that should worry Arkana as we, its editorial staff, move forward in adding audio to our website?

There are legitimate discussions to be had about the impact of this.  Our choices as an editorial staff affect what literature is given a platform, what art reaches the population, and thus, we choose the face of art.  For a host of reasons–aesthetic, practical, and arbitrary–we decide what issues are important, what messages are worth transmitting.  We are gate keepers of thought.  In the words of narrator Barbara Rosenblat, “A gifted audio recording artist can elevate less-than-stellar writing to someplace[sic] very new.”  Should we choose to elevate less than stellar work?  Does that act, in and of itself, create a new piece of art?  And if so, does that put the editors and narrator in the position of artists themselves?  Technology constantly introduces new questions of ownership, creation, and the nature of art.

Which I personally find extremely fascinating.

Perhaps that is the answer then.  Perhaps the hostility that’s been elicited is not mere elitism and white-male-beard-stroking.  Perhaps it is in fact a reaction to fear and to intellectual sloth.

We continue to tread further into uncharted waters with technology, and it is human nature to fear the unknown.  Those that oppose recordings and view it as not being “real” writing fear being forced to back into the position of the student, of not knowing, and of having to be humble to the questions.  It’s hard work to think and tackle the questions introduced by that which is unfamiliar, but it’s much easier to use the intellect you’ve already got to dismiss it all as fluff.


Originally from Oklahoma, A. É. Coleman writes fiction, comics, and questionable poetry.  He’s a Navy vet who owns cats, plays bagpipes, and listens to science podcasts while pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Central Arkansas.

Art: There’s an App for That

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Musings on multimedia storytelling, art, and apps.

 by Cassie Hayes, Fiction Editor

On Monday, publishing house Simon & Schuster, partnered with Paragraph, launched a new campaign to let readers spend time with characters from beloved books. Using actors and technology, such as smart phones, apps, and recent breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, this new initiative will focus on bringing literature alive and creating a more intimate storytelling experience. “We use to invite readers to enter into a book’s universe,” said Stephen Bedford, Senior Marketing Manager for Simon & Schuster. “With the ‘Meet the Character’ initiative we are inviting the book to enter our universe, forming more personal connections between reader and text. Have coffee with Captain Ahab. Go bowling with Harry Potter. Explore a haunted house with Jane Eyre…”

Okay, okay, the above paragraph isn’t completely true. There’s no ‘Meet the Character’ initiative, no way to tour New York with Holden Caulfield or go to a movie with Jo March—not outside your imagination, at least. That’s what you get for trusting a fiction writer.

But that’s not to say that what I said was completely false, either.

Take a look at the app Crave, for instance. Simon & Schuster, partnered with the company Paragraph, really DID launch Crave back in 2015, and the app’s point is to create a more intimate connection between authors and readers of romantic fiction. In the article “Simon & Schuster Launches Serial Fiction App for Romance Superfans” on bookbusinessmag.com, Crave is described as a subscription service in which “users choose the author they want to subscribe to and receive daily installments of her latest work before that novel is sold to the public. The subscription also comes with extra content that enhances the story, like video featuring the main characters and messages from the author.” In this age of Twitter and algorithms, readers want—dare I say, crave—to be personally connected with authors and texts. Apps that offer exclusive extras, like Crave, or apps that create interactive storytelling experiences are some of the ways in which publishers are adapting to and taking advantage of digital technology to engage readers.

Book apps are also in the business of engaging readers with interactive, multi-modal storytelling, and, at least for picture, coloring, and comic books, business is booming. Picture book apps offer games, sound effects, music, animation, and narration for to hold kids’ attention when mom or dad allows some screen time, as long as it’s educational.

But, when pondering stories told through apps, I’m always reminded of Rudyard Kipling’s lines:

When the flush of a newborn sun fell first on Eden’s green and gold,
Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mold;
And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,
Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves: “It’s pretty, but is it Art?”

So what, we can entertain kids with picture book apps? Kids are actually pretty easy to entertain. I mean, when I was a kid I played with cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, and tin foil. So we can add animation and sound effects to comic books? Hollywood’s been doing that for years. So we can color in pictures on our phone while waiting in line for coffee or while trying to avoid conversation with a coworker? We’ve always been pretty great at wasting time.

Sure, apps that offer interactive storytelling experiences are interesting, maybe even educational, but are they capital-A Art?

Or, perhaps the more important question is—do they have the potential to be Art?

In the article “Picture Book Apps and the Case of the Vanishing Author,” writer Sandy McDowell bemoans that picture book authors don’t adapt their talents to help app designers tell better stories with apps. She points out three ways in which picture book authors are already primed to help develop apps—picture book authors are already multi-modal writers, they know about user experience and design, and a lot about app development is the same as picture book development.

And, McDowell claims, “even the best animation or the most speedy download can’t save a bad story.”

Reading has always been interactive and personalized, and storytelling has always been multi-modal. A fascinating irony about all this new-fangled technology is that the more we get away from humans doing stuff on their own, the more we learn about ourselves—the more we can’t escape ourselves.

The more we can’t escape our stories.

Therein lies the Art. Yeah, a lot of apps in the publishing world are about bells and whistles. A lot of them exist to make money. A lot of them are escapist video games disguised as books. And a lot of them are going to have their heyday on the AppStore and then disappear. But as long as they are telling stories, there is the potential for an app to give a reader a burst of insight and emotion that forces him/her to look up from his/her digital daydreams and see the world anew.

There’s no telling where digital storytelling is going to take us in the future. Digital technology is blurring the lines between fact and fiction, casting into flux the idea of identity. Already with stuff like Comic-Con and Snapchat filters, we see people shape-shifting into their favorite characters or wearing digital masks. With alternative reality technology, people are finding new ways to escape into video games and the digital world. With apps like Crave, romance readers can now see and interact with their fantasies. So maybe before long you WILL be able to have coffee with Captain Ahab or go bowling with Harry Potter.

But hopefully the farther we escape the more we will come to appreciate reality, life, the human experience.

And perhaps that appreciation will come from a small voice whispering: “It’s fun, but is it Art?”


Cassie Hayes is a fiction writer and sometime taco-maker from Waxahachie, Texas. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Texas at Arlington and now attends the Arkansas Writers MFA Program and interns at the Oxford American.

Everything is Now Political

The future of the literary journal in the age of Trump.

by Mark Lager, Poetry Reader

“Everything is now political. We have the responsibility to make the political personal.”

Roxane Gay challenged booksellers with this statement. She challenged booksellers to extend their scope beyond their usual predominantly suburban, predominantly white demographics. She challenged booksellers to share marginalized voices. She cited as examples bookstores in Detroit, Milwaukee, and Los Angeles that had reached out to minority communities.

She had already caused controversy in the publishing industry by withdrawing her new book How To Be Heard from Simon & Schuster as an act of dissent. Some commentators had criticized her demonstration as another posturing of political correctness. They were wrong in their assumptions. Her choice was a bold and courageous move.

Simon & Schuster’s imprint, Threshold, had originally planned on publishing the book Dangerous by the alt-right firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos. His speeches and writings have tapped into much of the same misogynistic and xenophobic fears and hatreds which fueled the ascendancy and election of Donald Trump. Protests against his college tour turned explosive in California on the campuses of UC Davis and UC Berkeley.

Despite his disgusting and divisive rhetoric, the ACLU decided to defend his First Amendment free speech rights. Censoring Milo Yiannopoulos and others like him reinforces his supporters’ suspicions of the liberal media, which will only encourage even more dangerous and outrageous alt-right agitprop. Censorship is never the answer. Counterdemonstrations are essential and important.

Simon & Schuster eventually did the right thing: they canceled the publication of Dangerous. However, the burning question still remains: how many more major booksellers will consider publishing someone like Milo Yiannopoulos in the first place? Will the publishing industry’s attention seeking (through a figure like Milo) continue?

Joy Peskin of Farrar, Straus and Giroux has detected a disturbing pattern here between the political and publishing worlds: “It’s not a coincidence that Trump went from a reality television star to president of the United States, thanks, in part, to the radicalization of the white working class. And a lot of the leg work was done by Milo and his mentor, Steve Bannon…If you think Trump’s presidency is the last gasp of the white male patriarchy, think again.”

Authors, booksellers, bookstores, and literary magazines need to step up to the plate as Roxane Gay has done. They need to address the issue of inclusiveness. This is absolutely fundamental now because of the forces of bigotry and racism previously beneath the surface but now unleashed by the presidency of Trump.  Literary journals must create communities of marginalized voices, what Roxane Gay recently nicknamed “sacred spaces” so that writing will progress, not regress, in this current charged climate.

Minorities have always faced an uphill battle in their writing being published and now this could only get worse if literary journals do not continue to disseminate these voices.

John Freeman argues that an alternative to the contemporary literary magazine is one which is international. Freeman says that “corrective narratives” are necessary right now in order to counteract the dominant capitalist and corporate narratives being used to manipulate the populace. However, Freeman also says that these narratives themselves should not be didactic on a moral or political level. They should simply present a region of human life which goes against these narratives.

Can a piece of poetry or fiction accomplish this ambition without being political? According to Roxane Gay’s more radical stance, this is no longer viable.

“The overlooked, the misunderstood, and the silent” are the voices which Arkana promises to share with the world in our mission statement. We have included voices which contemplate the complexities of life in China and London, of genocide in the Middle East, among other voices. All literary journals need to keep pushing themselves beyond their borders. It is only through this process that we will be able to combat the insular mindset which has prevented progress for such a long time and create communities which are truly inclusive.


Mark Lager is currently enrolled in the MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Central Arkansas. His work has been published in Chiron Review, Circumference, Columbia Journal, and Denver Quarterly.