noteable essays

“Ashley and I,” by Ryan Mitchell was featured in the April 2014 issue of Under the Gum Tree (pictured left) and “Attempted Homicide,” by Brigitte Bowers in the October 2014 issue (pictured right).

With the upcoming release of The Best American Essays 2015, we are proud to announce that two essays
previously featured in Under the Gum Tree have been selected as notable essays by the anthology. “Ashley and I,” by Ryan Mitchell was featured in the April 2014 issue and “Attempted Homicide,” by Brigitte Bowers appeared in the October 2014 issue.

The Best American Essays is an annual anthology that strives to showcase the finest nonfiction writing from across the country. A team of editors select exemplary work published through the year in various magazines, journals, and online publications. These essays are then narrowed down further by a guest editor, selected each year for their renowned expertise in the field. This method of essay selection allows for a great variety of writing styles and topics to be included in the anthology each year, making it a unique blend of the personal experiences that make America.

Mitchell’s story delves in to the emotions associated with a gradual realization that people you care about are not always who you think they are. She examines the notion that we supplement our understanding of people be by filling in the gaps of what we don’t know about them with what we would like to be true. This idea has amazing ramifications as she tells the reader about the years she spent communicating with an online pen pal. These idealizations and expectations slowly being to slip away when she finally meets this man—and his girlfriend—during a family vacation. “Ashley and I” brings into question the role of virtual communication in a world that is constantly becoming more digital. The piece is crafted in such a way that as readers see the events unfolding, they can sense the tantalizing and unwritten details. It is impossible to read “Ashley and I” without drawing to mind some similar personal experience when a potential friend—either someone met online or otherwise—has fallen utterly short of our lofty expectations.

Mitchell teaches English at Lycée Français de la Nouvelle Orléans. Other pieces of her work have appeared in publications including Otis Nebula and Cannibal, among others.

Bowers’ piece spans the author’s nine years in an abusive relationship and touches upon the tangled motives and events that held the fractured pieces of her life to his for so long. “Attempted Homicide” begins rather bluntly with Bower confiding to the reader that she had considered killing Dan McDonald before explaining why or who the man was. Bower manages to navigate a challenging and often-avoided subject with her direct and honest perspective. Without saying so, Bowers speaks to the idea that we must be our own advocate, especially when it’s the most difficult thing to do. Though in the end she offers no solution to the situation and only a mediocre explanation that doesn’t satisfy the questions she asks herself, the reader is left with the idea that there is no single definition of strength. Instead, it is something we must find inside if we want to see a lasting change in our life.

Bowers holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from California State University, Fresno. She is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced and a columnist for the Merced Sun-Star.

Both back issues of Under the Gum Tree can be purchased in digital format from our website here, or hard format from our MagCloud store here.

The Best American Essays 2015 goes on sale October 8.

Article by Under the Gum Tree Editorial Intern Faith Lewis


Meet the Artist: Kurt Edward Fishback

by Intern on September 28, 2015

editorial for Sactown MagazineKurt Edward Fishback, son of photographer Glen Fishback and namesake of photographer Edward Weston, grew up as part of the photographic community in Northern California during the 1940s and ‘50s. Mentors and friends of the family included Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock, and Edward Weston. Despite his immersion in the world of photography, Fishback began his artistic career studying ceramic sculpture at Sacramento City College, the San Francisco Art Institute and the University of California, Davis in the 1960s. He first began to experiment personally with photography in 1962 as a way to document his experiences with other sculptors, but it was not until 1973, when his father invited him to teach at the Glen Fishback School of Photography, that photography became Fishback’s primary medium of expression. You can find out more about Kurt on his website here.

Kurt Fishback’s photo essay “Portraits of Women Artists in their Personal Space,” published in our July 2015 issue, is a collection of portraits of artists in their studios, their most personal and intimate space. The studio is where artists develop their ideas both conceptually and physically. Photographing artists where they make art can shed light on their influences, desires, and creative processes. The point of his essay has been to share artists with the public, making each artist more accessible and relatable.

Q. When did you get into your art form?
I was born the son of photographer Glen Fishback and namesake of photographer Edward Weston in 1942 and grew up as part of the photographic community in Northern California during the 1940s and ’50s. Mentors and friends of the family included Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock, and Edward Weston. My father made advertising photographs for companies like Eastman Kodak, Ansco, Honeywell, Pentax, Rolleiflex and wrote many articles on photograph while operating a portrait and wedding studio in Sacramento.

My first personal work in photography in 1962 began when I asked my dad to be my teacher. I was learning to photograph people in the street and also to document my experiences with other artists. What I learned first was the love of the fine black and white print. It was not until 1973, when my father invited me to teach at his school, the Glen Fishback School of Photography in Sacramento, that photography became my primary medium of expression.

Q. Were there other mediums you tried before?
Despite my immersion in the world of photography during my childhood, my artistic career began focused on ceramics in the early 1960s. It was difficult in 1961 to find photography in college art departments and ceramics was already well established as a medium everywhere. The ultimate goal was to gain the degrees necessary to teach in higher education as a means of supporting a career in fine art.

It was in the early 1960s I met Robert Arneson, Peter Voulkos, David Gilhooly, Peter Vandenberge and others. The shift in ceramics from pottery to sculpture without a need for utilitarian function was happening fast. I was swept up by this shift at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1964 studying with Jim Melchert and Ron Nagle and became part of the movement coined by Peter Selz as “Funk Art.”

I had been exhibiting ceramic sculpture widely beginning in 1965 and in 1970 after receiving my MFA at the University of California, Davis, began my teaching career at Fayetteville State University, an all-black school in North Carolina. I taught art history and drawing. A year later I was teaching painting, drawing, design and art history at College of the Siskiyous in Weed, California. And, invitations for clay sculpture shows were still coming in. (I also taught a one year sabbatical replacement job at Sacramento City College while a grad student teaching ceramics, drawing and design 1968/69).

Q. Where do you find most your inspiration?
 I am inspired by the ready availability of ideas that flow when I simply get out of my own way and make art without trying to make things happen humanly by overthinking the process of making art. It was made clear to me early on that life is a letting process and not one that works very well when forced to fit into any particular mold.

Q. Whom do you find has influence over your work?
My obvious influences are to this day my teachers and mentors through the years, those who shared their wisdom with me about making art and also how to be the best me I can be. Living with and growing up surrounded by creative thinkers made it impossible to consider a life without making art. I quip on occasion about those who sit on my shoulder when I make art such as Robert Arneson and my dad. Even my Grandma “B” sits there on occasion. She taught me carpentry and how to sew and embroider.

Q. How long does it usually take you to complete a photo spread?
One of the ways I was able to gain access to well known artists with very busy schedules was that I work quite fast. I promised that I would not take more than an hour and would not bring lights or cords and work exclusively with existing light. The key is that I know the craft of photography. There is no guess-work involved. And within what I want my final print to look like, each decision as to composition, light quality and direction on my subject and what might need fixing later with predictability simply flows one by one to the best possible result. When I went to New York, for instance, in 1982, I made forty-four portraits of artists in their studios or place of choice in twenty-one days. Film was my medium then and I exposed a total of 600 frames of film for all forty-four without needing to “bracket” exposure. Every frame I exposed was usable. In other words I made about thirteen exposures per sitting with more than half posing the subject in more than one place and I had never seen my subjects’ studios in advance. Oh, and another thought on time. Most of my exposures are relatively long at 1/2 to 1 second in length.

Q. What do you enjoy most about art and its creative process?
Making art simply allows me to be in contact with my higher self and all the unseen sources of wisdom that most people are just not aware exist. Through the art-making process I not only produce finished objects to share, I also work through other problems in my life and find comfort and a sense of peace that might not be possible to experience otherwise. Over the past four months I even built a Navajo-style loom and wove a 30″ x 40″ blanket as a meditation practice. And, when something I have made inspires someone else, that makes me the most happy.

What is the hardest part of doing what you do?
 This is an interesting question. Usually I eschew any negative references to what I do but a thought does occur that might bare sharing.

I have been doing what I do for so long that the solution to making a good portrait and an equally fine print comes both quickly and easily for me. This does not mean that the process is in fact “easy.” Also, post-production time in Photoshop preparing the files for printing with an exact thought for how those image files will print takes time and effort just as it did in the darkroom before I shifted to digital. All too often photography is taken for granted in this world of iPhones, Facebook, and Instagram. What I make takes time and an ongoing consideration of details and minute elements that most people have learned to ignore and not be aware of. It is often not what is included in each image as much as what is left out that makes it successful. And, that takes years to train the photographer’s/artist’s response, step by step. And astute viewers will feel the difference all of the attention I pay to my final result makes even though they don’t know what it took to get there. All too often today, people are in too much of a hurry to take the time to allow themselves to both sense this difference or frankly even care. That does frustrate me at times. What good photography costs is another factor that lacks public understanding as well.

Q. Do you work from home or a studio space?
My studio has always been in my home. When I did more commercial work much of what I made for clients was on location and did not require a large studio space. The art that I make doesn’t require much space either. Now that I have made the conversion to digital photography almost completely all I need space for is my computer, scanner and professional printer. I still love making my own prints and when a larger size is necessary work with a trusted lab near home. The portraits I make are still on location and in someone’s else’s space. Working with existing light also makes things easier.

Q. Do you have a favorite photographer?
I have known and know too many photographers to have one favorite. Each one has their own special message and set of abilities and ways of seeing. If I were to mention two photographers who influenced my work the most they would be Arnold Newman and Yousuf Karsh. Both were portrait photographers but their styles were very different. Since I work with existing light good “street photographers” are my biggest inspiration as they also must make their art with what exists at the time and place their image is captured.

Q. Do you have a set schedule for when you work?
. Commissioned personal portraits by clients are scheduled when they present themselves and when the funds will allow I continue to make portraits of artists. Occasionally a grant stimulates a new series of portraits such as the Leff-Davis Fund for Visual Artists which I received in October of 2014. Thirty new portraits of women artists were partially funded by that leading to two exhibitions, one at Archival Gallery in Sacramento, and the other which just came down at Transmission Gallery in Oakland. At present I am seeking further funding to continue making portraits of women artists.

Q. Are you featured in any galleries or anywhere?
At present I don’t have any work hanging in any galleries. The long-term goal however is for an exhibition of 100 portraits of women artists that will flow from support I am seeking at present.

Q. Is there anything else you want to tell us that hasn’t already been touched upon?
I would like to add that I am grateful for opportunities like this to share my experience and what I know and feel. The portfolio of portraits of women artists that was published in Under The Gum Tree honored my photography and also the women I photographed. The primary purpose for these portraits and the project is to share women artists with the public gaining them visibility and presence in the world of fine art they might not otherwise have. My hope is that in some small way what I am doing will make a difference in someone else’s life other than mine.



Meet the Author: Camille Griep

September 21, 2015

Camille Griep is the author of the novel Letters to Zell, an epistolary fairy tale. She is the managing editor of Easy Street and a senior editor at The Lascaux Review. Her shorter works have appeared in journals such as Cartridge Lit, Synaesthesia, and The First Line. She lives and writes near Seattle. Camille’s piece “Roads, Lost” is her reflection on the time she spent […]

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Meet the Author: Nick Jaina

August 17, 2015

Nick Jaina was born in Sacramento. He released his first book, Get It While You Can, a work of non-fiction, through Perfect Day Publishing in January 2015. The book doesn’t tell about all the great things that he has done; it shows vulnerability and struggle and how he got through that. “Because,” he says, “those […]

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Meet the Author: Daisy Florin

August 10, 2015

Daisy Alpert Florin grew up in New York City and attended Dartmouth College. Her essays have appeared in Brain, Child, Full Grown People, Minerva Rising and Mamalode. She lives with her husband and three children in Connecticut. Daisy’s piece, “Crash,” is a reflection on change and the fleeting nature of life, as well as a […]

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