Call for Submissions: Under the Gum Tree Anniversary Contest—Celebrating 6 Years of

Telling Stories Without Shame


Under the Gum Tree invites you to submit today to our annual creative nonfiction contest, judged by Kwame Dawes! Kwame Dawes is the author of dozens of books of poetry, essays, fiction, and criticism. His most recent nonfiction work is the essay collection he edited, When the Rewards Can Be So Great: Essays on Writing & the Writing Life (Pacific University Press, 2016), and his essays have appeared in numerous journals including Bomb Magazine, The London Review of Books, Granta, Essence, World Literature Today, and Double Take Magazine. His newest poetry collection, City of Bones: A Testament (Northwestern University Press) will appear in 2017. He is Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner and teaches at the University of Nebraska and the Pacific MFA Program.  He is Director of the African Poetry Book Fund and Artistic Director of the Calabash International Literary Festival.

Contest Theme: (dis)empowered

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “empower” as “to give official authority or legal power to,” “to enable,” and “to promote the self-actualization and influence of.” It defines “disempower” with slightly different nuances: “to deprive of power, authority, or influence; to make weak, ineffectual, or unimportant.” We want to see your best writing that converses with one or both of these words and more, in terms of content as well as form.

To us, this theme invites considerations of power and agency and their possession, both the lack and the excess thereof. Tell us your true story of powerlessness, weakness, ineffectiveness (cultural, artistic, spiritual, racial, economic, and more). Or take a hard look at how we sometimes treat others: Tell us your true story of too much authority, or too much strength, or legal or social power—influence and attention you may have desired or deserved (or not), and which may have cost you or cost someone else, or both. Tell us your personal story (or the true story of someone you know, and how that story has affected you) that engages with this theme from any or many direction(s).

Under the Gum Tree wants your very best narratives, articulated in any form (straight-ahead narrative, lyric, modular, etc.), that invite us as readers and people into a space, experience, examination or contemplation that brings us closer to our raw, complex and varied humanity/ies and challenges us to deeper authenticity with ourselves and fuller empathy toward others. In our telling of our true stories, we can begin to move out of shame, silence and loss and create a forum in which respect and honoring are the coins of the realm, a forum in which community lifts up more than it limits. Send us something that calls us out, something that draws us toward others. Send us something that sets us unequivocally on a path toward change.

To submit an entry for consideration, please note the following and submit accordingly:

  • Contest submissions should respond to the theme of (dis)empowered.

  • Contest submissions are accepted between March 30 - June 30, 2017. (Submissions close promptly at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time on 6/30/2017.) Contest entries must be previously unpublished, submitted blind, and not exceed 5,000 words

  • Submissions are accepted via Submittable here (*be sure to select the appropriate category*). Multiple submissions are welcome, though only one manuscript is allowed per submission. Current Under the Gum Tree subscribers submit for free (or extend, or give a gift subscription, for the regular submission fees that follow). General submissions bear a $20 reading fee and include a one-year digital subscription (or extension, or gift subscription) to the magazine; a year of the print edition is available for an additional fee, $80, which includes both a print+digital subscription. 

**Please Note: Submissions uploaded through the free option by non-subscribers will not be read. If you are not an active subscriber, you can become one by submitting through the $20 option, or, there is also an option to subscribe to the print edition! Head to our Submittable contest page for full details.

Winner & Prizes

One (1) winner will receive the following:

  • A modest $500 cash prize (and more, if submission fees permit!)
  • Publication in our January 2018 issue
  • A one-year subscription to keep or gift

The winner will also receive the option to guest-edit the features section of a future issue of Under the Gum Tree; in this way, we desire to push the limits of our aesthetic and include more and more voices.

Honorable mention(s) will be published and will receive a one-year subscription to keep or gift, plus a mystery box of inspirational CNF goodies, including books and UTGT swag. We also hope to publish many finalists and other contest entries, so submit today! 

Under the Gum Tree is a self-supporting independent literary magazine. The magazine is unaffiliated with any university or other organization and receives no external funding. We hope, as a result of a strong submission pool for this contest, to be able to offer an even more generous cash prize, as all proceeds from submission fees go to the prize pool and contest production costs. 


We Subscribe to the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses Contest Code of Ethics

CLMP’s community of independent literary publishers believes that ethical contests serve our shared goal: to connect writers and readers by publishing exceptional writing. We believe that intent to act ethically, clarity of guidelines, and transparency of process form the foundation of an ethical contest. To that end, we agree to:

  • conduct our contests as ethically as possible and to address any unethical behavior on the part of our readers, judges or editors;
  • to provide clear and specific contest guidelines—defining conflict of interest for all parties involved; and
  • to make the mechanics of our selection process available to the public. This Code recognizes that different contest models produce different results, but that each model can be run ethically. We have adopted this Code to reinforce our integrity and dedication as a publishing community and to ensure that our contests contribute to a vibrant literary heritage.

To be certain that each manuscript submitted to one of our prize competitions receives the fairest and most thoughtful consideration, all manuscripts are given to readers anonymously and are judged anonymously. Under the Gum Tree uses a blind judging system to arrive at the contest finalists. This is how we do it:

  1. We receive submissions blind via Submittable. If your manuscript is not submitted blind (e.g. completely free of any information that can identify its author to our staff), it will be returned to the submitter. The submitter will have an opportunity to correct it and resubmit it. When the piece is resubmitted, it will never be assigned to the reader who saw it with ID info.
  2. Blind manuscripts are distributed among our staff readers via Submittable for review. Staff readers affirm they have no knowledge of who authored the manuscripts or recuse themselves. Staff readers vote Yes, Maybe, or No on each manuscript, and include notes supporting their votes.
  3. Submissions that average Yes’s across all staff readers are promoted (still blind) to editors for review. Editors affirm they have no knowledge of who authored the manuscripts. Editors vote Yes, Maybe, or No on each promoted manuscript, and include notes supporting their votes. From the Yes’s, editors meet and work together to select 6-10 finalists for submission to the contest judge.
  4. Finalists manuscripts (still blind) are submitted to contest judge, who affirms s/he has no knowledge of who authored the manuscripts. Judge selects one winner, and may select up to two honorable mentions, for prizes and publication. Close friends, relatives, students, and former students of any of the Under the Gum Tree staff or the final judge are excluded from the contest. If any of the judge’s selected winner and/or honorable mention authors fall under these categories they will be disqualified, and a replacement will be chosen from among the finalists.
  5. As creative nonfiction is a relatively small community, and the contest is judged blindly, we feel acquaintance should not be a disqualifying factor, so long as nothing about a particular manuscript is recognizable to any of the staff or to the judge. Anyone wondering if they might be a “close friend” probably is. For the purposes of this contest, we’ll call a “close friend” anyone with whom we have direct private correspondence (either written or verbal) once a month or more. And please remember that if the manuscript is recognizable to the judge, the entire submission will be disqualified. Please do not submit a manuscript that you have previously submitted, unless it has undergone revision significant enough that you believe we will not recognize it. If you are not 100% confident we will not recognize it, we ask you to submit a manuscript that is completely new to us instead.
  6. As stated above, we vow to conduct this contest as ethically as possible. If you have any concerns regarding this matter, either before, or after the winners have been announced, please contact us directly at Under the Gum Tree is thoroughly committed to safeguarding the integrity of our contests.