What does it mean to “tell stories without shame”?
Under the Gum Tree has been championing the mantra of telling stories without shame since 2011. We see our mission as sharing stories that remind readers of our shared humanity. Too much of the human experience gets hidden behind constructed facades based on what we perceive the world expects from us. Stop hiding. Live a story. Tell it without shame. And by without shame, we mean that the authors and contributors featured in our pages own their story, even the ugly parts, and share it with pure, unadulterated, raw, candid vulnerability.
The concept of allowing oneself to be vulnerable has taken on a kind of chic in recent years, thanks in large part to the brilliant work of Brené Brown. But the actual practice of vulnerability is harder to embrace.
But you didn’t come to this page for this, you’re here to find out about submitting your work to our lit mag. If you write true stories, also called creative nonfiction, (and literary nonfiction, by some) and you’re taking storytelling to a level beyond “I was twelve years old when my mother died,” then you might be ready to submit to us.
Your story is personal; it is true (to the best of your recollection); the way you put your words together, the language you choose, and the layers of meaning you have built generate an experience for the reader. You are the narrator of this story (though it needn’t be first person), and the reader knows how you have been affected, how this has become a part of you, without your telling us this in so many words. We know why this story matters.
We are actively seeking work by under-represented writers for features and in all of our departments.
We publish personal essays, memoir, and creative nonfiction stories that:
- reveal authentic vulnerability. These are stories that you’re embarrassed or afraid to share because you’re more worried about how people you know will react than what you learned and how it changed you. Those are the most powerful stories because you’re risking something for the sake of helping someone else.
- provoke conversation. The stories that are the hardest to tell inevitably make at least one person say, “Wow. Me too. And I thought I was the only one.” The stories that are the hardest to tell give others permission to tell their hard stories, and it perpetuates a cycle of storytelling.
- examine a universal truth. Most people keep the hard stories to themselves out of fear—fear of how others will react or judge them—but once a story gets shared, we finally realize how common the human experience really is. Sure, everyone’s individual experience is unique. (Isn’t that what makes a good story?) But we can always relate to things like love, forgiveness, perseverance—you know, the stuff that everyone encounters no matter their circumstances.
In 2020 we published 5% of submissions (received 484 submissions and published 25). In 2021, we closed submissions from October-February 2022. We also did not attend AWP, which is where we often get new submissions, and as a result received fewer submissions overall. We published 15% of submissions (received 170 and published 27).
Features & Departments
One thing that sets us apart from other publications is that we don’t do themed issues. Instead we have themed departments that we aim to publish in each issue, and vary depending on what we have accepted. With the exception of Flash, our Departments are limited to a 2,000 word max. We do consider longer work, which we consider feature length, as described below.
Features: Longer features may explore a department topic or any other unspecified topic. Most issues will have one longer feature, but we reserve the prerogative to include more than one feature. We might also ask for features on a particular theme, depending on the season and how we’re feeling at the time of planning the issue.
We consider submissions (2,000 words or less) for the following themed departments:
So much of who we are depends on the relationships in our life, blood or otherwise. This department is for stories about family—and we use that term liberally, because isn’t the friend you’ve had since you were eight, almost nine, years old, more like a sister?
Music sets the tone of a gathering. It changes a mood from depressed to uplifted. This department is for stories on interacting with music and how it interacts with us. Is there a specific song, group or artist that has had a significant impact on your life? Have you had a meaningful live-music experience? Are you a musician who also writes about how music affects the human experience?
Fork and Spoon
Much of life revolves around food. This department is for stories, and even recipes, on how food, cooking, eating and drinking affect life. The dinner table means different things to each of us—it can be a comfortable place that facilitates intimate communion, but to someone else it might be an awkward place of forced conversation. These food interactions shape us more than we know.
24 Frames A Second
This department is for stories on film, perhaps one of the more powerful storytelling mediums. Is there a specific film that has changed you in some way—caused you to think differently or see the world from a new perspective? Are you consistently moved by the work of one particular actor or director?
Those Who Wander
Tolkien famously wrote, “Not all those who wander are lost.” And surely, as writers, we are often inspired by our journeys or the travels of others (and we know, some wanderers ARE lost). Whether travels are from one neighborhood to another, one state to another, one country to another; on vacation or a pilgrimage, for family or for work, so many of these changes in our physical locations trigger meaningful reactions in us and the way we view the world around us. This department is for stories about travel and the individual ways moving around this globe affects us.
Every issue includes a flash feature, which is a short-short piece of creative nonfiction, under 1,000 words.
Under the Gum Tree accepts submissions on an ongoing basis, and all submissions will be considered for one of our quarterly issues. To submit writing, photography or art to be considered for publication, please read and follow these guidelines.
Please don’t email with questions until you have familiarized yourself with these guidelines and the details on this page. Sorry, but we can’t answer emails that ask us to “please send more information about what you’re looking for.” Also, please don’t email us asking whether we have read your submission or if we’re going to publish it. If we decide to publish your piece, you will hear from us. Promise.
Submissions that do not follow these guidelines will not be eligible for consideration.
Under the Gum Tree does not accept queries. Only complete manuscripts or complete bodies of visual art sent digitally will be considered. We are a digital publication, after all.
- Simultaneous submissions and work previously published on your own blog or website are both okay. We do not consider work that has been previously published. Under the Gum Tree contributors retain all the rights to their own work.
- Submit only one piece at a time.
- If we have accepted your piece, please wait at least one year before submitting again.
- Contributors receive one complimentary print and digital copy of the issue in which their work appears.
- We accept digital submissions only. Click here to submit.
- Yes, we charge a nominal submission fee. This helps us send complimentary print copies to our contributors and offer a cash prize for our contests. With the submission fee, you receive the current issue (digital—a $7.99 value!) FREE.
- Do not include any identifying information (name, contact information, email, location, etc.) in the file that you submit. Doing so will mean your submission is automatically declined.
- We do not accept unsolicited submissions of artwork/photography.