A new anthology, out from Big Table Press on March 1, 2018, My Body, My Words tackles themes of chronic illness, depression, age, weight, sexual identity, and more. Featuring voices as various as New York Times Bestselling author Beverly Donofrio (Riding in Cars with Boys) and Ashley Tipton from Project Runway, this collection shows a range of experiences. We were thrilled to have editors Amye Barrese Archer and Loren Kleinman talk with us:
How did the idea for this essay collection come about? How did you two decide to collaborate? Is this your first project together?
We both write a lot about our relationships with and to our bodies. We had read a few times together and discovered that we really had a literary kinship. We knew we wanted to work together, so it seemed natural to focus on the body since that is something we are both so passionate about.
We started with a simple idea: if you could talk to your body (and if your body could hear you), what would you say? From there, the idea just grew and grew.
Did any surprising themes appear while reading submissions?
We expected weight to be the most prominent, so we were very surprised when it wasn’t. We received many weight submissions, but we received an overwhelming amount of essays on aging, illness, mental health, and more. I think we were surprised by the spectrum of pain and pride people feel for their bodies. I’ve said this before, but when you struggle most of your life with weight, your perception of body image is focused solely on fat vs. not fat. This book opened our eyes to the shared burden of being human.
What were some of the challenges of editing and ordering the essays in this collection?
Editing was probably the biggest challenge. Because there were so many different authors, different styles, different voices, it was interesting to capture and best represent each essay in it’s full beauty. We hope we did so. Ordering was a bit easier-I felt that once we had teased out what each essay wanted to say, we were able to lay them down next to one another in a way that made sense. We wanted a narrative thread to run through the book-one of struggle and acceptance. I hope we achieved this.
Because of the nature of publishing, this project has been in the works for a while and seen many big changes in society during the process. How has the current political and social climate impacted your view of this project?
Amye: The #metoo movement happened while we were still building this book. It challenged our thinking in that we wondered if it should be an anthology exclusively reserved for women. In the end, however, we wanted to include voices from other genders since we really wanted this to be a collection of humanity. Excluding anyone would have been a mistake in the current climate-when we need to respect everyone’s agency.
Loren: To expand on what Amye has said, I think how men and women accept their bodies’ starts from the top. Our models, including the American media, politicians, and businessmen and women promote excessive lifestyles filled with violence, power, and over the top sexuality. Like Amye said, this extreme living has affected our bodies in ways that we are aware of and ways we are not.
For instance, research is continuing to prove the effects of social media on our body image and self worth. In a 2016 Time article called How Social Media Is a Toxic Mirror by Rachel Simmons the study, Contingencies of Self-Worth and Social-Networking-Site Behavior is referenced. Simmons notes “visual platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat deliver the tools that allow teens to earn approval for their appearance and compare themselves to others. The most vulnerable users, researchers say, are the ones who spend most of their time posting, commenting on and comparing themselves to photos.” The study she references revealed “female college students who did this on Facebook were more likely to link their self-worth to their looks.”
I realize that sexual abuse has been evident for years, but I think now more than ever, the narrative, as a result of social media use, is that any person can be reduced to ‘like.’ People are disposable and they’re for our viewing pleasure. Rather than be treated as human beings with thoughts, feelings, goals, bodies, we are either clickable or not, we either fuckable or not. I think the #MeToo narrative is challenging this notion, and bringing back personhood, personal stories, and by doing this the consequence is that we return to a more stable, balanced place of remembrance, which is a return to our humanity. MBMW is that return to humanity, to the body we call home, and its beautiful fragility.
What are some of the absolute stand-out moments for you in the anthology?
For me personally (Amye) it was working with two of my mentors: Abigail Thomas and Beverly Donofrio. I read Abigail Thomas’ Safekeeping when I was an undergraduate and it fundamentally changed the way I wrote and thought about being a woman. Then, I had the pleasure of studying under Beverly Donofrio when I worked on my MFA. It was also amazing to publish new writers, those who have never written a piece like this before. I loved weaving together the chorus of voices.
We feel incredibly honored to be allowed entry into so many writers’ lives. Among the many vulnerable and authentic pieces, we loved Kathleen McKitty Harris’ piece, A Timeline of Human Female Development. Kathleen actually came to us by way of Martha Frankel, and we fell in love with her essay on first read.
We also loved Wynn Chapman’s The Fat Filly and Jennifer Morgan’s Fifty to Eight Pounds of Shame. Both stories deal with the shame-whether self-inflicted or embedded from those around them. These writers, like the other writers in the collection, are sharing the raw parts of themselves with readers.
Outside of the anthology, what are some of your favorite reads recently?
Amye: I just finished Her Body and Other Parties, a collection of stories by Carmen Maria Machado. A fantastic collection.
Loren: I just read Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson. Anne is one my favorite writers.
What’s next? What are each of you working on now?
Amye: I’m working on my second novel, a fictional story based very much in truth. I’m also working on a play.
Loren: I’ve been working on a collection of essays about overcoming trauma and also another anthology about gun violence.
Thank you so much for your time!
Check out the collection here.
Amye Archer holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Wilkes University. Her memoir, Fat Girl, Skinny, was named runner-up for the Red Hen Press Nonfiction Manuscript Award and was released in April, 2016, by Big Table Publishing Company. She has two poetry collections: BANGS and A Shotgun Life, both published by Big Table Publishing. Amye’s work has appeared in Brevity, Hippocampus, Mothers Always Write, Nailed Magazine, PMS: Poem Memoir Story, PANK, and Provincetown Arts. Her Essay, “Slow Motion,” received a notable in Best American Essays 2016. Amye is a regular contributor to Feminine Collective and is the creator of The Fat Girl Blog. Learn more about Amye at www.amyearcher.com.
Loren Kleinman’ s non-fiction has appeared in The New York Times, Ploughshares, ROAR, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Seventeen Magazine, USA Today, Redbook, Woman’s Day, BUST, and more. Kleinman’s The Dark Cave Between My Ribs was named one the best poetry books of 2014 by Entropy Magazine. Learn more about Loren at www.lorenkleinman.com.