Vol. 8: Embodiment Poets Annie Marhefka, Tom Chambers, Lori Jakiela, Aluu Prosper, and Jade R

A Creative Conversation with the Volume 8 Nonfiction Writers and Visual Artists

By Abby Mills | January 20, 2023

We sat down with some of the Nonfiction writers and Visual Artists featured in our most recent issue to talk with them about the inspiration behind their work, how they feel it "embodied" our theme, and what they are most proud of in their past year of creating. Read on to learn more about Annie Marhefka, author of "Anatomy of the Postpartum Mother", Tom Chambers, the artist behind "Tales of Heroines", Lori Jakiela, author of "The Success Dream Book", Aluu Prosper, the artist behind "Painting in the language of dread", and Jade R, author of "A Journey Into a Genderfluid Body". And be sure to check out their work in Vol 8: Embodiment!

What are the origins of your work? How did it come to exist in its final form?

Annie Marhefka: This piece took so many different iterations to get it right! I first wrote it as an essay about the difficult task of splitting your love between two children after my second child was born. But I could feel that it wasn't ready, and I had the patience to let it sit, let it simmer. Months later, I learned about this strange species of frogs that stuck with me. And even later on, I saw Fatal Flaw's submission call for writing on the theme of Embodiment. It finally all clicked. I edited, I rewrote, I edited. My original essay transformed into a story about mothering, yes, but also frogs, and dissection, and how we, as mothers, split apart at the seams for our babies. It took a year to refine this one, and I'm so proud it found a home in the magazine whose theme inspired its evolution.

Tom Chambers: My work included in the Embodiment issue is part of my series called Tales of Heroines. This series of photomontages tell different stories in which girls and young women navigate the small challenges and larger life hurdles. My daughter's ingenuity, determination, and empathy inspired this series.

Lori Jakiela: This essay has been a shape-shifting work in progress for years. I was fascinated with my father's Success Dream Book from the moment I first saw it. The book's weird for sure. Still, it's been useful for all the times I dream about drowning in a pool of Skittles, or dream about my teeth falling out (because Skittles), or dream about showing up naked to the high-school math class I never passed because math makes me itch. It's also in theory good for lottery number-picking, though it never worked for my dad and hasn't worked for me yet. I became obsessed with how my father – a pragmatic man, a rough steelworker captured by this world – still leaned into hope and magic and belief when he needed it most.

I was diagnosed with my own cancer years after my father's death. What a weird phrase: my own cancer. Like we own the disease that may or may not kill us, which we do of course. Retracing my father's path was healing in a way. It provided a kind of map for me to work through my own fear. It was also a way to keep saying goodbye to him. Losing a parent, losing anyone, is a lifetime journey of goodbyes, I think. When I feel something like closure, something else opens up. In this final form, the essay is a chapter in my next book, a memoir called They Write Your Name on a Grain of Rice: On Cancer, Love, and Living Even So. It's coming out this Spring from Atticus Books, a sweet indie publisher that gave a home to another one of my books, Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth Maybe, which is all about adoption and such. I think I'm always writing about family and love and loss, no matter how it comes out.

Aluu Prosper: My work is a reflection of a part of African history. Using oil painting on canvas I was able to show the symbols and tell a story.

Jade R: This piece was my first attempt at putting into words what it feels like, for me, to live as a genderfluid person, in a way that voices my own inner monologues surrounding that part of my identity, and how I continue to learn to love myself as such. Ever since I came out, I’ve been on a journey to finding my self-confidence all over again, and it hasn’t always been easy. Following a divorce, I’ve been looking for ways to lean into doing more of the things I love most, like writing. I think sharing personal stores is a great way for us to help others learn more about themselves as well, especially where it concerns marginalized communities. This was born as a culmination of all of that.

How do you see your work speaking to the theme of embodiment?

TC: Each of the portraits in the Tales of Heroines embodies the strength and resiliency that I have witnessed in my own daughter and other young women.

LJ: Cancer – how terribly common it is, how vulnerable it feels to have our own bodies turn on us like that, those traitors – that's embodiment in its essence, maybe. Cancer – unlike a car crash or heart attack or death-in-sleep – usually allows some time to think and reflect on our lives, for better or worse, both. Maybe the disease also embodies something that is uniquely human. It allows us a chance to consider the pieces that make up a life. It allows us the chance to make an accounting – dear god, math – of our time and place in this world. It allows us a sliver of time to say things we'd never say or think about otherwise.

Maybe it allows us to let go of some of the heaviest things we've carried. I'm not being romantic about any of this. Cancer – mortality in any form – is horrifying and an abomination. "There is no such thing as a good death," Simone DeBeauvoir said, and that's true.

AP: Well, as an Afrocentric artist, I acknowledge the importance of African history, hence the signs. Also, we should never erase our past. It shapes who we are today and will help us to be the people we'll be tomorrow. I wanted to tell a story of a lady in that painting, but I chose to do it with Ancient African symbols instead of English words. It's a means at which we tend to keep track of our history. In order to preserve cultures, we must continue to create it, which can be likened to the term "Embodiment", the representation or expression of something in a tangible or visible form. We shouldn't just hear about these cultures, we must see them, feel them. It should be present in our lives and that's why these paintings were created the way they are.

JR: I focused this piece heavily on the theme of embodiment because I’ve struggled a lot with how to come to terms with my body as a genderqueer person living in a very gendered society. It’s an experience that’s very personal to me, and it means a lot to me to be able to share how I’m dealing with my own body image issues in hopes that it can help others deal with their own.

AM: When I think of embodiment, I think of all the ways we absorb things into ourselves, and the way we release them. As a mother, I think about the ways the body transforms in order to give and sustain life, and the way our bodies are also homes, for a time.

Reflecting back on 2022, what artistic achievement are you most proud of in the past year?

LJ: Finishing my book manuscript, They Write Your Name on a Grain of Rice. And having this piece in Fatal Flaw was such a gift. It makes me feel like maybe the book version might be useful to people. As a writer, I want to connect with others. I want to feel less lonely and make other people feel less lonely. That Fatal Flaw chose to publish this piece – and even nominate it for a Pushcart – makes me feel like there are other people out there who might know, who may have been there, too, and that we can be together in this life. It's a lovely feeling. I'm so grateful.

AP: The learning process and evolution.

JR: Honestly, 2022 was a blur for me. I left my marriage in 2021, and dove deep into intensive therapy to heal. The inner work I did was so intense and took so much of my time and energy, I feel like I went underwater into my own consciousness for a while, and I’m just now finally coming up for air, almost 2 years later. Writing this story was one of my first trepidatious steps out of that deep dive, on my way to learning how to walk again. So I would say this piece in particular was a very meaningful accomplishment for me in 2022.

AM: I'm so grateful that I was able to write so much this year (especially with two young kiddos!). Just reflecting on all I've produced makes me proud! But also, I received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, which were unexpected and such an honor!

TC: I am most proud of a collaborative piece called Vestiges which I created with fellow photographer Aline Smithson and then donated to a fundraiser at the Griffin Museum of Photography.

And looking ahead to 2023 - what are your artistic resolutions? What do you hope to work on or accomplish in the new year?

AP: There is a lot that can be achieved. I want to achieve everything possible within my reach.

JR: I want to write more! Going into 2023, I’m making that a priority for myself, and also leaning into collaborating on creative projects with others, doing things with no other purpose than to create something inspiring. Working in a creative career, as a model, I can be creative on set to an extent, but there is so much freedom in getting together with other creative personalities and just making art for the sake of it, in whatever form we can. I want to do more of that this year as well.

AM: I'm working on a new collection of flash nonfiction that I'm crazy excited about! I have fallen in love with writing flash nonfiction over the last year. It's the perfect genre to get me into a daily writing habit because it's short enough that I can at least get a snippet a day drafted and keep momentum. And I love the challenge of restricting my word counts, which forces me to pay closer attention to every word and think about how it adds to the overall piece.

TC: In 2023 I hope to complete two different photographic series. One series is based on my recent travels through Morocco where I was totally taken by the colorful markets and the landscape dominated by changing light. The other series is based on travel in Italy where I was inspired by the frescoes, Renaissance light, and sense of playfulness.

LJ: I'm working on a novel – my first. Fiction is hard for me. There are so many choices! I've written a lot of creative nonfiction, memoir, and journalism. The world gives and keeps giving. It feels hard to make things up. But it feels freeing, too. I'm hoping to finish this book and stretch my writing a bit. It's scary but exciting, too. It's nice to think I can keep growing and learning as a writer and as a human. Not done yet.

What do you hope people take away from your work?

JR: I hope that other genderqueer people feel seen and understood when they read my piece, and I hope that people who aren’t genderqueer might understand us a little better. I truly believe that in such a big diverse world, we all have a lot more similarities than differences if we just take some time to pay attention to each other.

AM: I joke that I thrive on coffee and relationships, but it's true! So, my hope is always that my readers feel a sense of connection, of authenticity, of feeling they can relate to what I'm sharing in some way. Especially when I write about motherhood, which can be so isolating! I want other mothers to feel a sense of "we're in this together."

TC: All my photographs are intentionally provocative. I hope that the viewer will find personal interpretation and meaning in my constructed images.

LJ: I'd like people to feel they're not alone. We're here together in this mess. Let's dance. I'm a terrible dancer – a lot of twitching – but at my age, who cares? Let them look. At any age, let them look.

AP: The stories, the inspiration, black excellence and the life of an average Nigerian.

Beyond this issue, how else can Fatal Flaw readers find and support you as an artist?

AM: You can find me on Instagram @anniemarhefka, Twitter @charmcityannie and anniemarhefka.com. And if you're in the Maryland-area, I will have a nonfiction piece on exhibit at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum throughout the year – go check it out!

TC: My work is represented by three galleries: Photoeye Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Gilman Contemporary in Sun Valley/Ketchum, Idaho; and Merritt Gallery and Renaissance Fine Art in Baltimore, Maryland, Chevy Chase, Maryland, and Haverford, Pennsylvania. I can also be found at http://www.tomchambersphoto.com, on Facebook @tomchambers, and on Instagram @tomchambersphotography

LJ: I have a website: http://lorijakiela.net. Come visit. If you can, buy a book, but if you can't, write to me. Like most indie writers, I have a stash in my basement. Or just send a note. Say hi. If you feel so inspired, write a review on Goodreads, Amazon, etc. It means so much to writers. Or just send good vibes into the void. It's all about feeling less lonely.

AP: Instagram: (@aluuprosper_c)
Email: aluuprosper41@gmail.com
Whatsapp: +2348101391417

JR: Follow me on social media to keep up with what other projects I get up to! I’m a performer at heart, so I’ve been finding a home on stage through stand-up comedy, which has been a lot of fun for me. I post all my new writings and show dates on Instagram for anyone interested in seeing more of me, and I’m pretty active on TikTok as well.

About the author

Annie Marhefka is a writer in Baltimore, Maryland. Her creative nonfiction and poetry have been published by Lunch Ticket, Literary Mama, Pithead Chapel, Anti-Heroin Chic, and others, and her work has been nominated for Best of the Net. Annie is the Executive Director at Yellow Arrow Publishing, a Baltimore-based nonprofit supporting and empowering women writers, and is working on a memoir about mother/daughter relationships. You can find Annie’s writing on Instagram @anniemarhefka, Twitter @charmcityannie, and at anniemarhefka.com.

Photographer Tom Chambers was raised in the Amish farm country of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Tom completed a B.F.A. in 1985 from The Ringling School of Art, Sarasota, Florida majoring in graphic design with an emphasis in photography. Since 1998 Tom has exhibited photomontage images from ten photographic series both nationally and internationally in twenty five solo exhibitions and over seventy group exhibitions and art fairs.

Lori Jakiela is the author of several books, including Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe, which received the Saroyan Prize from Stanford University, and How Do You Like It Now, Gentlemen?-- a collection of poems which was awarded the 2021 Wicked Woman Prize from Brickhouse Books. Her next book--They Write Your Name on a Grain of Rice--is forthcoming from Atticus Books in 2023. She lives in Trafford, Pennsylvania with her husband, the writer Dave Newman, and their children.

Born and raised in Nigeria, West Africa, Aluu Prosper makes figurative and expressive paintings. Prosper studied at the Federal University of Technology Owerri, where he learnt Building technology with an architectural background on designing. He also acquired expertise in graphic design, illustration, 3D modelling, video editing and animation.  In 2018, he had his first official art exhibition where he won the Peace Poster award for his painting on Peace at the ANBUKRAFT. He has participated in severalexhibitions and competitions since then and has won some of them. In 2020, he was signed as a brandambassador to TECNO mobile Nigeria on a one year deal. His works has appeared in countries likeSouth Africa, United kingdom, United States, Canada, Japan e.t.c. Nigeria, b. 1999

Jade R has worked as a model since 2001, and was a forerunner for the body positivity movement in the early 2000's. With a Creative Writing degree from Stephens College, they use their passion for writing as an advocate, particularly where it concerns body diversity in fashion and the LGBTQIA+ community. One of their favorite ways to relax is through stand-up comedy. You can often find them laughing at their own jokes on stage in New York City.

up next...

A Creative Conversation with the Volume 8 Fiction Writers

We sat down with some of the Fiction and Flash Fiction writers featured in our most recent issue to talk with them about their writing inspiration, how they feel their work "embodied" our theme, and what their creative resolutions are for 2023. Read on to learn more about Dia VanGunten, A. Valliard, Mir Arif, Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou, and Christopher Adams.