A Charm City Champ

Baltimore-based Yellow Arrow Publishing elevates women writers.

A Charm City Champ

Way back in August, when the summer seemed endless, when all I had to worry about was launching my daughter off to her freshman year in college (done, checkmark, delivered to Temple University in Philadelphia), I promised in the inaugural installment of “Small Talk” that I’d use this column to focus on small presses in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. I started off by calling out a few of the many not-so-big presses that make the DMV such a vibrant literary scene.

Now, as the days shorten, I’ve had a small talk with Yellow Arrow Publishing’s executive director, Annie Marhefka, who spoke at this year’s Washington Writers Conference on a small-press panel I moderated. (A shameless plug: Mark your calendars now for next year’s conference: May 3-4, 2024.)

Established in 2016, the Baltimore-based Yellow Arrow began as an idea: that it would be nice to have a literary house, an actual house, for women writers. Of course, then came the pandemic and, eventually, changes in Yellow Arrow’s leadership and operations. Marhefka shared a bit of the press’ story with me last month, while I was still tripping over boxes.

Why is it essential in 2023 to have a “women-identifying” press like Yellow Arrow Publishing?

Many women have been conditioned to not make a lot of noise; at Yellow Arrow, we consider how we will encourage them to clamor louder to make a joyful racket with their writing voices. Our mission is centered around demonstrating to the world that their stories are worthy of telling, listening to, and celebrating. Through our publications (Yellow Arrow Journal, Yellow Arrow Vignette, Yellow Arrow chapbooks) and programs (workshops, a writers-in-residence program, internships), we uplift the underrepresented voices of intergenerational women — from emerging writers who are college age or MFA grads to more seasoned voices looking to establish themselves in the literary scene.

What excites you these days? What keeps you going as a small, independent, nonprofit press?

Each year, we select a value representing where we are on our creative journey and how we hope to inspire our community. The momentum of Yellow Arrow’s story is seen in the way these have culminated over time: Refuge, Emerge, Awaken, Spark. These values inspire and fuel our publications and our work. This year, we felt a renewed energy not just amongst our team but in the broader literary scene in Baltimore and beyond: a spark. We approached this year with excited humility, and we look to the future, ready to coax Yellow Arrow’s spark into full flame.


What lit up this columnist was receiving copies of Yellow Arrow’s recent chapbooks, Ann Weil’s Lifecycle of a Beautiful Woman and Shantell Hinton Hill’s Black girl magic & other elixirs. I’m not a poetry critic, only a regular reader and lover of poetry, especially when I discover poems with insights into the everyday — like opening an overstuffed closet, using a vibrator, or calling out ex-husbands (which is what Weil writes about in her flaming-hot collection).

In Black girl magic & other elixirs, Hill, an engineer turned pastor and poet, offers a tribute to Black women everywhere, from the matriarchs in her Arkansas family to Toni Morrison, Serena and Venus Williams, Brittney Griner, and others. She offers her thesis in “ontology: A Black women’s requiem,” one of the latter poems in this stirring collection:

“we have always been more than our trauma/far greater than mere survivors of life — /for we are the vanquishers of death/who make magic out of strife.”

Of course, small presses are keeping the flame burning bright outside the DMV, too, so in my next column, I’ll go farther afield to bring you some of them.

Caroline Bock is the author of Carry Her Home, winner of the Fiction Award from the Washington Writers’ Publishing House, and LIE and Before My Eyes, YA novels from St. Martin’s Press. She is co-president of the Washington Writers’ Publishing House, a nonprofit literary press based in Washington, DC.

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