The Aunt Flo Project is an upcoming anthology of poetry, short stories, and creative non-fiction featuring writing about all aspects of menstruation. They are looking for previously unpublished poems (up to six poems in a single document), fiction, and creative non-fiction up to 3,000 words. Submissions can deal with any aspect of the menstrual experience from the emotional to the physical: this includes first periods, last periods, never-ending periods, menstruating while trans, late periods, great periods, period shame, period pride. They would love to consider submissions from marginalized and under-represented groups, including but not limited to people of color, Indigenous people, disabled, chronically ill and/or neuroatypical people, as well as LGBTQIAP+ people.
This is such an amazing project, of course I had to interview them to find out more. See my in-depth interview with editors Rachel Neve-Midbar and Jennifer Saunders as well as a link to submission guidelines below.
HOPKINSON: Tell me a little bit about The Aunt Flo Project anthology.
NEVE-MIDBAR: Our hope is that The Aunt Flo Project will become a multi-genre anthology with writing centered around the subject of menstruation. There have been a few other anthologies of this type in the past, some solely poetry based. We hope Aunt Flo will push the boundaries of those projects and will include all aspects of menstruation including menarche, menopause, pregnancy, after-birth, post-abortion, as well as the special situations that many encounter in more marginalized spaces: the cost to low income or incarcirated individuals and the struggles for many in the LGBTQ+ and trans communities. We want the hard stories, but also the happy, the funny, the deeply human. Jen and I hope to create a space where everyone can park any shame or stigma at the door and feel comfortable and safe to share this most natural aspect of our existence.
HOPKINSON: How/why was The Aunt Flo Project originally started?
NEVE-MIDBAR: The Aunt Flo Project started because one woman in a Facebook writers group I’m in asked where she could send a poem she had written about her suffering with endometritis. Many responses popped up naming journals that were run by women. When I asked why she didn’t just send to the best place she thought the poem would get in to, she responded that “there is still a stigma.” At about the same time I asked my Renaissance Lit professor to direct me to the research done about menstruation and Shakespeare and she told me it had never been done. Hundreds of years of critical research concerning Shakespeare’s writings and no one had looked at what he had to say about menses? As I researched I found more and more surprising facts about how menstruating women have been persecuted: from separating from home and family during menses, to being ridiculed, shamed, not allowed to work outside the home, only because we menstruate. I started to ask myself, what is wrong with this picture?
Most of my adult life I lived as an Orthodox Jewish woman. In Orthodox households a man and woman don’t touch for the duration of her menses and for an additional week after “just to be sure.” At the end of this time a woman would dunk in a ritual bath, a mikveh, and only then return to her marital bed. A woman attended the mikvah in the dark of night. She told no one but her husband. A couple rarely touched in public so no one could tell who was in the state of separation and who wasn’t. It was considered immodest to do so. Modesty becomes a tool of power in a system governed by shame and secrecy. Where was the celebration of our fertility, the blood that brought life and the continuation of our families? Where was the honor to what set me apart as a woman?
What I hope Aunt Flo and projects like this one will eventually do is to lift the aura of stigma and shame. To normalize our stories: to live them, write them, to share them as we would about anything in our lives.
HOPKINSON: Who is your target reader audience?
HOPKINSON: What type of work are you looking for?
NEVE-MIDBAR: Honestly we’re looking for it all from menarche to menopause, from humor to the stories that are perhaps hard to tell and that we’ve never shared before. Writing about our periods, menopause, the cycles of our bodies, has been taboo for so long that really I’m just excited to see what stories people feel driven to share, what people will write when they believe their words will be welcome.
SAUNDERS: Rachel and I have different first impulses, I think, when we think about menstruation stories. She has to remind me sometimes that they can be a source of humor and power, whereas my own experience with infertility – getting the heartbreaking period over and over and over again – leave me more jaded I think. Once, after a failed frozen-embryo transfer – I knew it had failed because I was literally having my period – I was required to go to my RE’s office for a blood test to get a definitive result. I told the nurse over the phone I had my period, but I suppose I understand, it’s a medical procedure and they really needed to be sure. Still. I’m sitting there bleeding while giving blood for a pregnancy test and the nurse, after drawing my blood, said “Good luck!” Force of habit, I suppose, but the whole experience was negative to say the least. Each period was so clearly a failure. So this is a time when having co-editors is a really great thing to broaden the perspective and bring more than one emotional tone to the collection. Like Rachel said, we really just want to give people a place to tell their stories.
HOPKINSON: What do you wish you’d see submitted, but rarely comes in?
NEVE-MIDBAR: We are looking for all good writing about menstruation. Be experimental. Be formal. Be crazy. Have fun and write us something great!
HOPKINSON: What is your favorite part of being on staff with The Aunt Flo Project?
NEVE-MIDBAR: Jen and I met in our very first poetry workshop online. She lives in Switzerland and I was then living in Israel. Since that first experience we have walked parallel tracks and our friendship has grown along the way. When I really started to see that The Aunt Flo Project might become a reality, I knew I didn’t want to work alone and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to really share something big with my best poetry-sister, Jen Saunders. I really hope all of you will join us, write something for us. Send it in. We are so looking forward to reading your stories.
SAUNDERS: Rachel and I have been on parallel poetry tracks for so long, from early days in online workshops together to overlapping for a few semesters at Pacific University’s low residency program to the sheer coincidence of having the same publisher for our poetry collections that when Rachel asked me to come on board with the anthology project the chance to work on something together was too good to pass up.
HOPKINSON: Where can we send submissions?
NEVE-MIDBAR: We will accept submissions in .doc or .docx emailed as an attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org. Poets: if your work contains special formatting we will accept a pdf to ensure your formatting is retained. Please include the genre and your last name in the subject line (for example Poetry_Dickinson) and a brief cover letter. You may submit in more than one genre, but please send each submission as a separate email. Please don’t paste your submission into the body of the email, but only as an attachment.
HOPKINSON: If someone has a question, how can they contact you?