creative nonfiction

Meet The Author

Meet the Author: Andrea Roach

Andrea Roach is a writer of memoir, essays, and creative nonfiction who lives and works in Boston, Massachusetts. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University and was a finalist for The Writer's Room of Boston Fellowship Award. Currently, she is working on personal narrative essays and the third draft of her first book, a memoir, about the blurred lines of love, family, and violence. Her work has also appeared in Blavity.

1.  When and why did you start writing? What inspires your writing most now?

I fell in love with writing and stories when I was very young. My mother was a reader and she filled my life with books and introduced my to the library. It was an elegant and symmetrical building built in 1898 with massive columns framing the front entrance and smooth stone walls with Renaissance Revival features and globed lampposts out front.   The Children’s Room had its own entrance on the side. I remember the mahogany door and the dark wood bookshelves. The library was the first place I was allowed to walk to on my own as a child, my first experience with independence.

I also consider my mother to be the first writer I knew and while she didn’t write stories or have the luxury to pursue a career for herself, she was the first person I saw put pen to paper. She wrote thoughts, letters, doodles and I of course wanted to be like her, so I began to do the same.  That kind of writing has a healing, cleansing quality to it that I appreciate.

I wrote my first story in the fourth grade with my best friend, Paula. It was a horror story, and it had all the standard scenes we saw in movies, blood pouring out of faucets and running down walls, with bits added from the ghost stories my parents told me on family nights. I didn't have a typewriter so I dictated and she typed. I wish I had saved those pages.

What inspires my writing now is the mystery and magic of telling a story, its movement. Once I surrender to the process of whatever story is trying to be told through me, I find myself on this fascinating journey of discovery that makes everything seem shiny and new. Even after long periods of time trying to figure out how to enter a piece, a stretch that can feel so heavy at times, the moment it comes to me is super exciting.  I really dig that rush. This current draft of my memoir has led me to the depths of human complexity, the pulsing heart of every instrument that Ornette Colemen played and the metaphorical genius of molting cicadas. I can’t wait to see where it takes me next.  

My characters also drive my writing.  I like to write about people I’ve experienced growing up, invisible people, the victims of domestic violence, the homeless men who live in doorways with their trash bags, newspaper-lined shoes and liquor bottles.  These people, who have suffered and struggled everyday of their lives, are full of wisdom and love and I think it’s hard for some of us to look past their tragedy and see their humanity.  Agatha and Aaron are the main focus of my essay but writing about the “Avery girl”, a person I only knew through a story  overheard as a child, who had such an impact on me that I recognized her a decade later, also felt important to the idea of how people, even strangers, imprint themselves on us and shape our viewpoint of the world.

2. Why are you drawn to nonfiction?

This is something else I’ll attribute to my mother.  She loved true crime stories and biographies.  She also turned me on to documentaries when I was young. We’d watch PBS together all the time and she’d scoff at anything that wasn’t “true”.  So that’s probably where it started.  What I like about nonfiction writing is that it demands a fearlessness and an honest confrontation of self.  If you’re going to do this kind of writing, you can’t be afraid to speak your truth and that requires some real excavating. As nonfiction writers, we have to get beneath the surface of experience and our own external representations to find verity. I actually like doing that kind of sleuthing. It helps me grow as writer and a person. 

3.   What events do you think warrant a story or should be written about?

I think you can find a story in almost anything.  I tend toward large heavier landscapes like death, love and abuse, but I also think an essay about the day you accidentally swallowed a fly that was in your coke can could be just as intriguing as going to the wake of the woman your uncle killed if the writer is able to connect it to the human experience in a meaningful way.  I look forward to writing some lighter pieces just to balance out the space I’ve had to occupy to write essays like the one that appears in Under the Gum Tree.

4. How much have lies and hope intertwined in your life? Do you continue to think of them as things that work off of one another?

Good question.  I’ll try not to go too far off the topic of the essay. The symbiotic relationship of lies and hope has always been part of my life, even before I was born. If you think about it, lies and hope are the foundation of our civilization. We live in a society/world where there have historically been hierarchies of wealth and privilege and ruling classes that have thrived on our willingness to believe the stories and promises told to us. The relationship of lies and hope is important to understand because it drives our thought processes and behaviors.  Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, understood this with his analysis of political propaganda and consumer culture and I think that some of his theories can be applied to the way we navigate certain situations and relationships. When I came up the title "The Lies We Call Hope," I was thinking of “lies” as self-deception, not really as purposeful untruths meant to manipulate. The stories and omissions we tell and justify to make people and ourselves happy or to avoid pain save us from being swallowed by fear and worry. They help us dream and imagine. It’s taught behavior and it’s useful but those same stories and omissions can also become crutches used to protect us from emotions that we think will crush us. I think in that way lies and hope can inhibit our ability to see and deal with hard truths. I try to be aware of the stories I tell myself in order to figure out what I’m avoiding or what I need to learn, especially in difficult situations.

5. Upon entering the funeral home and coming face to face with Agatha's family, are these hopeful lies stripped away? How did their grief force you to confront what had happened regarding your uncle, Aaron?

I think the hopeful lies were stripped away but I don’t think I was aware of it at the time.  I just thought I was naïve, and I was.  I thought that because I didn’t personally kill Agatha that it wouldn’t be a problem for me to go into someone’s space of mourning but the pain and anger was so palpable it scared me in a way I had never experienced. I left with an uneasiness that haunted me for years.  And it took a long time to find the words to express that feeling.   The wake was a turning point for me and the way I viewed violent men.  I grew up witnessing physical violence but a man has never beaten me. I describe my uncle, who is very close to me in age, having a soft angelic voice and that’s the man that I knew.  I had to separate the other man, the violent Aaron, from the loving one and that’s something I was taught by the women that raised me. The monster in men was something we had to exorcise with love.  It became our responsibility.  I think up to the point when I went to Agatha’s wake, I still carried the idea that somehow the abuser deserved more compassion than the victim because he was sick.  When I saw Agatha in her casket and was met with so much hostility from her loved ones, I was forced to start looking at abusive relationships in a different way.

6. "I told myself that it didn't matter what he did because in my family, love and violence are the same." Love and violence resonate throughout your piece; do you see them as two sides of the same coin?

I don’t see love and violence as two sides of the same coin but because I grew up with damaged people who really wanted to love and be loved I understand the dynamic. My parents could never get past the inherited pain and ideas about men, women and relationships given to them from other generations of damaged people. For them and for my uncle and me, love and violence morphed into normalcy. It was the only model for romantic relationships I had seen growing up. I was lucky that my mother was determined to make sure I didn’t live her life.  She guided me, the best way she could, to another path. I’m grateful for that and a lot of other factors that have helped me to live life differently.

7.   Agatha appears to be the opposite of you: stripped of her identity as a black woman and, in death, totally unable to express herself. Is she part of the reason you wrote this piece?

Yes, that’s part of it. I had only met Agatha twice, briefly, before she died and both times she seemed quiet and reserved. Maybe it was because she didn’t know me, I can be shy too when I first meet people.  I wrote the essay for Agatha, to give her a voice and perhaps even pay penance for my blind loyalty to my uncle. I’m exploring her more in my memoir.

My mother also had something to do with this essay, and everything in my life, as you may have noticed.  She died of lung cancer shortly before I started my MFA program and I initially wanted to tell her story.  We joked about it sometimes, that our life could be a “movie of the week.” It was part of my own grieving process and a way to honor her.  I was so afraid that she would just be erased and I couldn’t let that happen.  In writing my mother’s story I thought about the word survivor and what that meant and I thought about how my mother, a victim of domestic violence for 15 years, could have been Agatha.  My mother was also very different from Agatha, she was out spoken and strong but also misunderstood, called crazy, without any consideration for the abuse she endured.  That bothers me. So it’s important to me that the women I write about, who have lost their lives in one way or another, are seen and understood.

Meet the Author: Stephen D. Gutierrez

Stephen D. Gutierrez has published three books of stories and essays. Live from Fresno y Los won an American Book Award, and The Mexican Man in His Backyard is his most recent. He has published widely in magazines and anthologies, including nonfiction in Fourth Genre, River Teeth, Under the Sun, Alaska Quarterly Review, Third Coast, ZYZZYVA, and Cleaver Magazine. He is working on a collection of essays and hybrid nonfiction. He teaches at California State University East Bay. Stephen also participated in Under the Gum Tree's recent national nonfiction simulcast, reading from his piece featured in our October issue, "Spiritual Direction."

Q: When and why did you start writing? What inspires your writing most now?

I started writing in college but I had always been a good writer. I always considered myself one inside. I started doing it seriously after being tremendously inspired by quality literature in an English class in my miserable last year of high school. It gave me a path forward, the call. What inspires me most now is the wish not to waste whatever gift I may have and be regretful on my deathbed because I could have done more. While I can do it, I think it would be a shame not to write. As well, I read my contemporaries and convince myself I have something to add to the literary conversation that is exclusive in its way—that is a bit different, that is me.

Q. Why are you drawn to nonfiction?

In nonfiction you can be more direct and straightforward than in fiction. Really, you can write more nakedly and openly absent the required fictional mask of irony and authorial distance that yields its own rewards but that is always a mediating disguise. You can cry plainly in sight in nonfiction, which can be moving for the reader as well. Also, its confessional aspect appeals to my need to come clean.

Q. What events do you think warrant a story or should be written about?

Really anything that moves you enough to want to articulate it fiercely and exactingly for another person to experience is potential material. I suppose we go after that part of experience that isn't easily translatable or explained to justify our words, and whatever brought awe to you is worth trying to pass on. Often these are very private moments that don't seem worthwhile, but I think they are—the micro, the macro, the personal, the political, the act of writing itself—it's all worth writing about if you're passionate enough about it. Whatever excites your passion is your subject.

Q. You refer to God as female in "Spiritual Direction." Is there a reason for this subversion of the typical gender assigned to God?

It's automatic now. "God" doesn't exist. There's no big man in the sky. Everybody knows that. So when we speak of God we are of course speaking of something else; what that something else is confounds me and everybody else, though people are getting close when labeling it an energy, a flow, a rightness with the universe due to certain moral precepts propounded by many religions for a long time, or just right decisions that are most in tune with your elemental self. Anyway, to refer to "God" as "he" is a trap. Immediately, we see the old man, and that's not tenable anymore. "She" has its own risks because of reanimating the old human figure of God, but she's novel, and new, and might contain the power I'm talking about for the time being. She might serve us well as we grapple with this new, evolving notion of divinity. And we might learn that she is realer than we expected, only different.

Q. Sister Carmen Rodriguez has a deep, spiritual connection to her history and culture. Is this the spiritual direction you are seeking?

No, we're very different. I'm in a different place, historically, culturally. I even have trouble identifying myself as "Latino" sometimes, it seems false to my real life and sensibility. If anything, I'd advocate everybody breaking free from their histories and cultures as completely as they can. For me, the sign of a healthy culture is that its individual members grow out of the culture recognizing that it shouldn't be privileged or honored or regarded in any special way. It's just a vessel for the inculcation of absolute respect for the worthiness of every single human being outside that culture. With that said, you can draw on what is good in your culture or has been fructifying, and Sister Carmen makes me proud to be Mexican-American. She has strength and mercy and compassion in equal measure, and she has a spirit that is Mexican-American that is mine, I recognize it, and I honor it. I don't know what spiritual direction I wish to be pointed in or what I want spiritually, but I also think that is exactly the right frame of mind to have about all things spiritual. I'm lost, I'm okay. I'm not arrogant, I'm just trying to be as open as possible.

Q. You write, "Without prayer we should have been dead a long time ago." Even as you struggle with disbelief, you recognize the power of prayer. What accounts for that?

I think it's true. As I said above, I believe we're dealing with energies and forces we don't understand yet when talking about religion and prayer. My gut tells me that all the lonely monks and devoted sisters and religious of all kinds have saved the world from nuclear destruction through their constant intercession on behalf of peace, of sanity, of life on earth instead of death and destruction. I think it's the most sensible thing to do nowadays, pray against nuclear holocaust and for peace, without the assurance of a big ear in the sky bent toward you. Indeed, with the certitude that no such ear exists, desperation is added to the prayer-energy, and that must count. Prayer is serious business. It wouldn't have lasted so long if it wasn't.

Q. In regards to participating in our creative nonfiction simulcast, what are the best parts of speaking/reading to a live audience?

I'm usually nervous before a reading of any kind even though I've been doing them for a while. The main benefit is selfish. I'm told I'm a pretty good reader, and when I feel the power of the words read right coming through me, I'm inspired to keep writing. I'm very doubtful about myself as a writer sometimes, very down on my abilities and calling, and getting up and reading and getting some good feedback from audience members and feeling good about myself doing it is all positive. I think, Shit, I should keep doing this. I should never quit. 

Meet the Readers of our October 29th Creative Nonfiction Simulcast

We could not be more pleased to be hosting a cross-continent Creative Nonfiction Reading Simulcast. Our co-collaborators include Hippocampus, River Teeth, and Creative Nonfiction. This live streaming event on Google Hangouts will celebrate the art of writing creative nonfiction. Contributors from these magazines will honor us and entertain you by reading a bit of their work.

For information regarding times and event locations, please visit our live event page.

To learn more about the featured readers for this amazing event, read on!


Readers for Creative Nonfiction

Jeff Oaks' most recent chapbook, Mistakes with Strangers, was published by Seven Kitchens Press. A recipient of three Pennsylvania Council of the Arts fellowships, he has published poems in a number of literary magazines, most recently in Assaracus, Barrow Street, Field, Nimrod, and Tupelo Quarterly. His essays have appeared in At Length, Kenyon Review Online, and Creative Nonfiction, and in the anthologies My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them and Brief Encounters: A Collection of Contemporary Nonfiction. He teaches writing at the University of Pittsburgh.

 

 

 

 

 

Brian Broome is an English and creative writing major at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA. His work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction.


Readers for Under the Gum Tree

 

Stephen D. Gutierrez has published three books of stories and essays. Live from Fresno y Los won an American Book Award, and The Mexican Man in His Backyard is his most recent. He has published widely in magazines and anthologies, including nonfiction in Fourth Genre, River Teeth, Under the Sun, Alaska Quarterly Review, Third Coast, ZYZZYVA and Cleaver Magazine. He is working on a collection of essays and hybrid nonfiction. He teaches at California State University East Bay.

 

 

 

 

Anara Guard is a fiction writer and poet who has lived in Chicago, Minnesota, New England, and now Sacramento. She received the John Crowe Ransom Poetry Prize from Kenyon College and attended the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in fiction. Her poems were recently included in Convergence and Late Peaches, an anthology of Sacramento poets. Her new collection of short stories, Remedies for Hunger (New Wind Publishing), received four stars from the Chicago Book Review and was featured in their Best Books of 2015 list. She is currently working on a novel, set in Chicago in 1970.


Readers for Hippocampus

Laurie Jean Cannady, Ph.d. has published an array of articles and essays on poverty in America, community and domestic violence, and women's issues. She has also spoken against sexual assault in the military at West Point.

Her memoir, Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul was named one of the best nonfiction books by black authors in 2015 by The Root online magazine. A Kirkus review describes Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul as a "bold, honest, and courageous memoir." Foreword Reviews named Crave a finalist in the Indiefab Book of the Year 2015 competition in the autobiography/memoir category.

Cannady currently resides in central Pennsylvania with her husband, Chico Cannady, and their three children. She teaches English at Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania.

 

 

Stephanie Andersen lives in Reading, Pennsylvania, with two of her daughters, her husband, stepson, and two dogs. Her work, twice listed as Notable in Best American Essays and twice nominated for Pushcart Prizes, can be found in Brain, Child Magazine, Stoneboat Literary Journal, and The Washington Post. She is currently working on a memoir that details her journey toward healing after giving her daughter up for adoption and examines what it really means to be a mother. She teaches writing at Reading Area Community College and, in her spare time, she teaches Zumba and watches birds.


Thank you Laurie, Stephanie, Jeff, Brian, Stephen, and Anara for participating in this event! It's an honor to work with you. A special thank you as well to our friends at Hippocampus, Creative Nonfiction, and River Teeth. Thank you for your continued dedication to creative nonfiction!

Three UTGT Essays Listed as Notable in Best American Essays 2016!

These past few weeks have been a whirlwind of excitement. As Under the Gum Tree prepares to celebrate five years of publication (with a revamped magazine design and a national nonfiction simulcast!), we've received amazing news regarding three of our contributors. Their essays are listed as notable in the latest Best American Essays 2016! We could not be more proud of them and we hope you'll join us in congratulating them!

Follow the links below for excerpts from each notable essay, as well as the biographies of the authors who penned them:

  1. "Signs (2002)" by Susannah Clark (April 2015) 
  2. "I Like You" by Steven Simoncic (January 2015)
  3. "Crash" by Daisy Florin (July 2015)

About the Author

Susannah Clark received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Emerson College in Boston, where she also taught creative writing and freshman composition. Her work has appeared in publications such as Inside Higher Ed, Extract(s), Rock & Sling and others. She recently won Flyway Journal's Notes on a Field contest in nonfiction, for her personal essay about working as a barista during the Boston Marathon Bombings. She lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

 


About the Author

Steven Simoncic's plays have received productions, readings and worksops at The Goodman, Steppenwolf, Victory Garden, The Second City, Pegasus Players, The Baruch Center for the Performing Arts, Stageplays Theatre, and The Soho Theatre in London. Steven's play, Once Upon a Time in Detroit, was selected as a semi-finalist for the 2013 Eugene 0'Neill Theatre Center's National Playwright Conference, and Heat Wave was recently selected for Steppenwolf Theatre's 2015 Garage Rep season. At the time of the publication of "I Like You," Steven completed critically acclaimed productions of Broken Fences with Ballybeg in New York and 16th Street in Chicago, which was featured in The Chicago Tribune's "Best of 2013."


About the Author

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 is the staff editor at Brain, Child and lives with her husband and three children in Connecticut.

 

 


Once more, Under the Gum Tree wishes to congratulate Susannah, Steven, and Daisy on this incredible achievement! 

Meet the Author: J. Daniel Thornton

J. Daniel Thornton is sorry if you’ve ever seen him dance. When he’s not writing, he teaches online courses at Miami University and lives in Bloomington, Indiana. He is an Associate Fiction Editor at The Indiana Review. Tay Zonday follows him on Twitter, and you can too: @joethelion23

Joseph’s piece, “Slouching Toward Abu Dhabi”, appears in issue 20 of Under the Gum Tree, published July 2016. 

Q.  When did you start writing and why? What inspires your writing now?

I started writing when I was fifteen or so. It was in some ways out of boredom and it was a lot of bad poetry, and in retrospect it's such a hackneyed story, but in some ways not really. What inspires my writing now is very much what inspired my writing then. I find that it's the odd or out of place things that are fascinating, particularly people who pretend to be something that they're clearly not in some cases. There's a fine line between what makes for an interesting fact, and what will make a good story, but I usually have to commit to that idea and explore it.

Q. Why are you drawn to nonfiction? What can you express through nonfiction?

I'm drawn to nonfiction because it forces me to be in uncomfortable spaces. It's a way of looking from the outside in, and really assessing who you were at the time and what's going on with and around your subject. Of course, you can't always write about these things up close, especially if they're powerful personal experiences. There's also something journalistic about it as well that for me at least, makes me feel that I have to be more fair in my nonfiction to people who appear in it than if they were fictional characters.

Q. You address the guilt you felt for hiding your sexuality from Janice, among other smaller lies. How did writing this piece let you come to terms with that guilt? Do you still carry those emotions with you today, or have you reconciled them?

I think I couldn't write the piece until I had come to terms with some of that. Much of guilt is a useless emotion, but I think that you can easily find yourself mired in it. And I think it would be fair to her that I wrote that essay in a way that was honest without being too self-aggrandizing, but since this is a personal essay, solipsism is something that you can't sidestep. You are, after all, talking about yourself. Janice and I were in an unhealthy relationship at the time, and it's much easier to see what was happening between us than it would have been if I had written about it five years ago. It would have probably been easier to be vindictive, but that would be unfair. We were taking two very different paths in our lives, and I wasn't certain of what I was going to do after college until I started applying to creative writing programs.

Q. Explain the significance of the title of the piece and why Sex and the City 2 came to be equated with the necessary punishment for all your wrongdoings.

The title comes from a Joan Didion collection of essays, "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," which is itself an allusion to W.B. Yeats' poem "The Second Coming." I think watching Sex and the City 2 became equated to me with that rough beast. The film is insufferable because well, everyone in the film is insufferable. But I think the most awful part about it was that these people were never honest with one another. Carrie never really tells Big how she really feels, and instead is pissed when Big wants to stay in after a long day of working. It's as though he has been a mystery to her for the entirety of their relationship, and that's really disappointing, as this is supposed to be about this savvy female writer. It's a film that doesn't deliver on its subject matter.

The more that I read about feminism and came to terms with who I am as a person, the more I was convinced that seeing that film was a bit of a wake up call and a cosmic/karmic payback for me not really being honest with myself and others about who I was or what I wanted in a relationship. That this was my destiny if I continued on the way that I was going to end up in this situation, where I would be watching something abhorrent on a screen and then being thanked for it, as if I had done someone a favor. I have done favors for others and have felt much better about myself that involved becoming entangled in their personal lives, but watching a movie about rich white women and their problems being rich white women is inherently uninteresting.

Q. What events do you think warrant a story or should be written about?

While I think the material for a story matters, what really matters is how it's executed. I've written (and read) stories that I am convinced have great material, but if you don't write it in the right way it will fall flat, or be terribly boring. But this happens with a lot of stories that I've written too, and it's about halfway through writing it that if its not going well, I'll abandon it and come back to it in a week before I continue.

Q. Why do you think you didn't react like Emily did upon seeing Sex and the City 2, in theaters for the first time with Janice?

I had similar feelings, but to me I was more bewildered than anything else. It was a long time after I saw it that I found that the film was so terrible to many of its characters. Emily was more offended anything else. It was hilariously mean-spirited. And I think she was really shocked that this was something that considered itself to be empowering to women, especially when it consistently disempowered them over and over again, as well as pigeonholed every other minority character on the show at the expense of these white female protagonists.

News

announcing our premiere issue!

Yes, it's finally here: the premiere issue of Under the Gum Tree! There's a preview here on our site -- head on over to the premiere issue page; there's a digital pdf that you get if you sign up for our newsletter; there's also a print copy that you can order via MagCloud. Get a copy, eat it up and let us know what you think by dropping us an email.

What's in the first issue? We're featuring stories from Peter Grandbois, Kate Washington and Alexa Mergen, and photography from Mazzarello Media & Arts and Jeannine Mengel. These stories explore a myriad of topics from the disenchantment of growing up in the suburbs, losing a loved one, losing oneself and dealing with the unexpected (sometimes unwanted) that life throws at us.

There's even one piece that give you a glimpse of the gum tree's origin. So sign up for our newsletter or order a hard copy and enjoy!

 

 

News

What's a Gum Tree?

Yes, there is a method to our madness; a reason for our rhyme. But we aren't going to tell you yet.

What fun would it be if we gave all our secrets away? There'd be no anticipation. No mystery. And, frankly, we enjoy the build up. So get excited. You'll learn what the heck a gum tree is soon enough.

For now, all you need to know is that Under the Gum Tree is a place for sharing stories without shame. We're tired of the same old game of putting on a show. Living a story and telling it without shame is about yanking down that curtain that so many of us hide behind. You know, all our shit happens back stage, and once we are primped and composed, we enter the stage and make a beautiful -- contrived -- performance.

Not here. Not Under the Gum Tree.

News

Call for Contributors

Hey there, and thanks for checking out Under the Gum Tree. Things here are still under construction, so please feel free to poke around, ask questions and share ideas. As you can see, we've got a pretty bare-bones look going on. That's because we're in need of some contributors! We're looking for creative folks who are interested in contributing as a labor of love, specifically:

  • designers to help with a logo and page design for the first issue
  • photographers, illustrators and artists to add beautiful images to the pages, and
  • writers to write creative nonfiction

If this sounds like something you'd like to be a part of, please shoot us an email at info (at) underthegumtree (dot) com. Hurry, we're waiting by the inbox.