Profiled in Terp alumni magazine

It’s an honor to be profiled in my alma mater’s alumni magazine Terp. Reporter Sala Levin interviewed me about why I write, the story behind Crumb-sized’s title, my hope for the book, and more.

Like she wrote in the article, I really do hope that my creative writing will reach others who deal with chronic pain. Chronic pain and invisible illnesses can be so isolating, so alienating. I wrote these poems partly to let others know they’re not alone.

In both of my poetry books so far, I’ve written about space and science. The scope of things inspires me because even when I’m in the midst of pain, if you broaden it and think about how I’m just one person on earth within a vast universe, it gives you perspective. It helps me, at least, deal with my pain.

Read the full article here.

My panel was chosen for Split This Rock’s 2018 poetry festival

This is another lucky year for me and literary festivals/conferences! First, my panel for AWP 2018 was accepted, now my panel for Split This Rock’s 2018 poetry festival was accepted as well!

I’m thrilled to continue to be a part of the local and national literary community through these events. I truly enjoy sharing thoughts on how to improve accessibility and representation of marginalized writers in literary magazines. And I learn so much by listening to other important discussions. I’m so honored to be chosen to speak on them, and don’t take it lightly.

These events are jam-packed, and it’s impossible to attend all of their panels, readings, caucuses, and more. But I always come away feeling energized to write more, submit more, assess my role as a gatekeeper as an editor of a literary magazine, to keep in touch with new friends, and to continue to push for increased representation in literature. There’s always more to do, and it’s never so clear as at these festivals and conferences.

My panel at Split This Rock’s 2018 poetry festival — it’s 10th anniversary celebration — is titled “Fantasy As Reality: Activism and Catharsis Through Speculative Writing.” Speculative literature, at its core, is about giving voice to “the other.” It can focus on not only imagined realities of the future, past, and present, but also give voice to bodies and individuals who are disabled, alien, marginalized, menial workers, and more. Terms like solarpunk and eco-speculation are becoming more used and explored.

Often times, speculative and science fiction is stereotyped as futuristic, extraterrestrial, and fantastical romps through universes using space travel, time travel, and super-advanced technology involving mostly cis white males. However, women, non-binary, and activist writers of speculative fiction are purposefully subverting this stereotype, diversifying and owning the fantastical worlds that they imagine. Sci-fi and fantasy characters and voices can and should represent the underrepresented to create a sense of community as well as rail against injustices in this world.

Our panel will demonstrate how non-realist poems and prose can offer a space for political critique and empowerment. Speculative literature celebrates humanity, highlights and empowers those whose voices are ostracized and oppressed in the real-world, and gives us the tools to think critically and improve upon how we live as a community together in the world.

The panel date is TBA (April 19-21, 2018) in a location TBA in Washington, D.C. Christina M. Rau will serve as the moderator, and the panelists include: Rita Banerjee, yours truly, and Alex DiFrancesco.

Registration for the festival will open later this winter.

Christina M. Rau is the author of the sci-fi fem poetry collection Liberating The Astronauts (Aqueduct Press, 2017), and the poetry chapbooks WakeBreatheMove (Finishing Line Press, 2015) and For The Girls, I (Dancing Girl Press, 2014). Her poetry has appeared on gallery walls in The Ekphrastic Poster Show, on car magnets for The Living Poetry Project, and in various online and print journals. She is also a contributing writer for the sci-fi website Tea & Fiction and the SFPA blog Specpo. In her non-writing life, she practices yoga occasionally and line dances on other occasions.

Rita Banerjee is the Executive Creative Director of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop and teaches at the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich. She received her doctorate in Comparative Literature from Harvard and her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington, and her writing on feminism, ethnicity, speculative fiction, and poetics appears in Poets & Writers, Painted Bride Quarterly, Hyphen Magazine, Electric Literature, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Riot Grrrl Magazine, and elsewhere. Her first collection of poems is Cracklers at Night (Finishing Line Press) and her novella is A Night with Kali (Spider Road Press). Follow her at or @Rita_Banerjee.

Marlena Chertock has two books of poetry, Crumb-Sized and On That One-Way Trip to Mars. She lives in Washington, DC and serves as the poetry editor of District Lit. Marlena uses her skeletal dysplasia and chronic pain as a bridge to scientific poetry. Find her at or @mchertock.

Alex DiFrancesco is a writer, activist, and baker. Their first novel, The Devils That Have Come to Stay, is an acid western that deals with social justice histories of the California Gold Rush. Their work has appeared in The Washington Post, Tin House, Brevity, Longreads, The Heart Podcast, and more. They are currently an MFA candidate at a consortium program in Northeast Ohio.

Second annual D.C. Art Book Fair this weekend!

Hannah and me tabling at the first DC Art Book Fair last year.

This weekend, Sunday, November 5, I’ll be tabling with my sister again at the second annual D.C. Art Book Fair from 12-5 p.m at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. It’s free to enter!

I’ll be selling and signing copies of Crumb-sized and Hannah will be selling her Bodies Adapt creations.

Last year, there were dozens of local and national artists and bookmakers selling zines, comics, paintings, poetry, pins, posters, and more! It was really amazing to see the diverse types of art and books at the show. It’s one you don’t want to miss.

Upcoming panel for #AWP18: Crip Lit: Writing Our Truths

I am so excited to let you all know that I got a second panel into the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference! It’s a big deal, and an honor. AWP 2018 will only be my second time attending the conference, so I’m thrilled to be back and spreading awareness of disability, writers with disabilities, and my love of poetry with other writers.

Crip Lit: Writing Our Truths will explore crip/disabled literature, and what it means to write your truth. Disabled writers and writers with chronic illness will explore #criplit and how vital it is in a time when the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid/Medicare, and disability rights are threatened. This panel will focus on how disabled writers, who have typically had fewer publishing opportunities than able-bodied writers, are speaking our own truths, writing main characters with disabilities, using forms and hybrid work to accommodate their bodies, and creating literary communities that showcase these voices.

The panel is Thursday, March 8 from 1:30-2:45 p.m. in Room 22 at the Tampa Convention Center. Minadora Macheret will serve as the moderator, and the panelists include: Suzanne Bair, yours truly, Jill Khoury, and Nicole Oquendo.

You can “sign up” to attend on our Facebook event. And learn more about our panel on the AWP 2018 conference schedule.

Minadora Macheret is a poetry editor for Devilfish Review and is starting a PhD in creative writing at the University of North Texas in the fall. Her work focuses on the intersectionality of the body, disability, and multiculturalism.

Suzanne Bair is a disabled multigenre writer, photographer, and community advocate. She is the founder and lead writer of Accessible Family Travel. Her previous work can be seen in Tiny Tim Literary ReviewNorth Sound Life, and North End Metro magazines. She is currently pursuing her MFA at WCSU.

Marlena Chertock has two books of poetry, Crumb-Sized and On That One-Way Trip to Mars. She lives in Washington, DC and serves as the poetry editor of District Lit. Marlena uses her skeletal dysplasia and chronic pain as a bridge to scientific poetry. Find her at or @mchertock.

Jill Khoury edits Rogue Agent, a journal of embodied poetry and art, teaches in the Young Writers Institute and Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative, and has three collections of poetry, Borrowed BodiesChance Operations, and Suites for the Modern Dancer.

Nicole Oquendo is a nonbinary writer, artist, editor, educator, and translator specializing in multimodal composition. She is the author of four chapbooks, a hybrid memoir, and a visual poetry collection. She serves the writing community by editing for a small press and literary journal.

Puerto Rico begins rebuilding its electric grid

The Hurricane that slammed into Puerto Rico last month was one of the most powerful storms ever recorded in the Caribbean. Her eye spanned the entire island.

I wrote about how Puerto Rico is beginning to rebuild its electrical grid for Electrical Contractor Magazine. After the storm wiped out an estimated 80-100 percent of its already aging power grid, the island has been relying on generators for weeks.

Puerto Ricans could be without power for weeks or months. Some say rebuilding may take years.

… leaving the American commonwealth without communication or power and severe lack of food, water and gasoline. Hospitals are running on generators, with fuel dwindling. And without power, water can’t be pumped into homes and businesses.

Rebuilding efforts could take years, said Steve Gaines, Chapter Executive of NECA Southeastern Line Constructors. Right now, contractors are waiting for the government to release an aid package so they can start the rebuilding process.

Read the full article here: “No Power for Months: Puerto Rico Begins Rebuilding Electric Grid.”


How to make your literary magazine more inclusive

After having this important conversation at AWP 2017 on how to make writing communities more inclusive to all of us, I decided to write up excerpts of our panel discussion and offer tips to editors of literary magazines. It was published yesterday in AWP’s The Writer’s Notebook.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. But it’s a start. Feel free to add on your ideas and tips in the comments or social media.

Below are a few highlights from “How to Make Your Literary Magazine More Inclusive.”


First, ensure your journal and submission process is fully accessible.

Second, more journals should feature voices of disabled writers, writers of color, queer writers, and others who have historically been and continue to be marginalized.

Third, ask if writers can find safe spaces for their work in your journals. Take a long, hard look at magazine mastheads. Does everyone look the same? Are there diverse ages, races, genders, sexual identities, abilities, and more? If not, why? Editors should be hiring diverse candidates as their interns, readers, and editors. For example, peruse @writersofcolor and @disabledwriters to find writers of color and disabled writers available to write! And follow conversations on social media, including these hashtags: #blacklit/blackauthors, #criplit#indigenouslit#latinowriters#ownvoices, #queerlit, and more.

Fourth, editors can consider guest judges as a way to bring in different gatekeepers.

Fifth, let diverse writers know you want their work. Editors have been doing this through submission guidelinesmanifestosmission statementseditor’s notesessays, or even through conversations on social media. There are many places where writers and editors discuss inclusive, representative, diverse literature, including: #blacklit, #criplit, #indigenouslit, #latinowriters, #ownvoices, #queerlit, We Need Diverse Books, and more.

Sixth, produce themed issues surrounding certain voices, identities, or political/social movements. Special themed issues can seem alienating, so it’s important to let writers know your publication is open to their writing at all times, if, in fact, it is.

Seventh, editors and writers must be brave. Small, positive shifts can have big consequences.


Read the full article here.

Crumb-sized book giveaway 📖

I’m hosting a book giveaway for a signed copy of Crumb-sized! Who will the lucky winner be?

To enter, you’ll need to use Instagram. To participate:
⭐️ Follow me
⭐️ Like this photo
⭐️ Tag a friend in the comments

The giveaway ends October 25th and is open to U.S. readers.


For another chance to win my book, you can enter the Goodreads Giveaway as well!

On that one-way trip to Mars reviewed in Agape Editions

My first book got some love today! Jennifer MacBain-Stephens, herself the author of three poetry collections, reviewed On that one-way trip to Mars in Agape Editions.

Jennifer explains that with the book sectioned into planets in the solar system, reader(s) “quickly realizes how the poems reflect different characteristics of not only planets but people. Each planet possesses a different appearance, has select wants and needs. Each planet holds specific gifts.”

This is something that I wanted to express in the collection. On that one-way trip to Mars didn’t start off in that solar system structure. But slowly as I was piecing the manuscript together, the poems seemed to be broken into chunks of emotion, theme, and voice.

Despite the collection’s title, alluding to an escape, most of Chertock’s words are rooted into the earth, the here and now, the real, the sensual, the fight.

Jennifer also said that “when not in space, Chertock’s poems excel at exploring what lives on the ground,” which I’m so glad to have done even a little bit right. I come from the Earth, so all of my writing is a form of tribute to my home. Even though I’m constantly looking up at the stars, at beyond, I know and love where I come from.

My first book focused on my bone disorder, but was also very ingrained in space and the universe at large. Jennifer writes, “There are doctor visits and tests and pills and pain, but also warrior-like strength and immense love.”

I’m grateful for Jennifer’s thoughtful reflection on my work. You can read the full review here.

Featured in Noble/Gas Quarterly’s Objects of Derision

Noble/Gas Quarterly chose me as their September Objects of Derision feature. They interviewed me about my inspirations for writing Crumb-sized, — being bullied as a kid and somebody actually calling me “smaller than a crumb” — and included four old and new poems.

It should be called womenstruate,” which was first published in Wicked Banshee Press’s The Devil’s Doorbell: Vagina Edition, questions the way menstruation sounds like men. The prefix makes it seem like a male activity or a male word given to such a female part of life. Through periods, women are connected. We seep together.

Unfold me gently,” which was first published in Crumb-sized, uses lyric and imagery to explore what bodies are, what disabled bodies mean.

Migration” is how I feel about borders. They’re imaginary and human-made. We must remember, we don’t really own land. We’ve been migrating and immigrating since the first people could walk. The politics of immigration, of keeping suffering people out, of denying a person’s life, are impossible to ignore and impossible not to grieve. As a poet, I hope I can help by raising awareness in some small way.

The only awkward one” is a brand new poem! I’m working on a book of poetry about my summer camp, and this is a sneak peak.

Thank you, Noble/Gas and Editor-in-Chief Emma Fissenden! And what a great issue 204.3 is!

Crumb-sized in the press 🙏📢

Crumb-sized has been out for a month! How did that happen? It’s old enough to move its arms jerkily, squeeze its non-existent hands into fists. I’m a proud book mama.

In its one-month debut, Crumb-sized has already garnered some press. I’m so grateful for the reviews it has received and interviews I have done with editors. Here is a roundup.

  • Yasmin Gunaratnam wrote a beautiful review in the Chicago Review of Books on publication day. She called me a space nerd exploring my inner cosmos — and hit it right on the head.
  • Mike Northen, the editor of Wordgathering, wrote an extensive review in September. He said I “began carving out a unique space for herself in disability poetry.”
  • Eric Cline, the editor of Calamus Journal, interviewed me about my interest in science-fiction poetry and the power of creating more diverse, representative worlds of the future.
  • Paul Semel interviewed me about my inspirations and why I choose to be radically honest in my writing.
  • Noble/Gas Quarterly chose me as their September Objects of Derision feature. They interviewed me about my inspirations for writing Crumb-sized and included a few new poems.