Meet Our New Editorial Intern: Emily Bradley

I was supposed to be in med school by now.  Actually, I suck at dissection, so scratch that.  I’d have probably wound up in a lab, looking at nice, sterile slides under a microscope.  Science was the plan. It had rules and tangible logic, a promise that greater study would positively correlate with greater understanding.  In high school, I was the everything AP science kid, the never-missed-an-exam-prep-session kid, the kid who origami folded what looked like a voice out of textbook pages and prayed it never got wet.  But then, of course it did.    

Perfection is a dead end.  A perfect test score ends in a zero, is applauded and then silenced on a transcript to be filed away.  I was a size double zero senior year of high school, the ideal anorexic for four and a half years by that point, not sick enough to demand attention, not well enough to quit walking round and round the same cul-de-sac whittling my stomach down.  I could achieve these goals, but without fresh air they would decompose into a dark garden inside me one day.

My cousin killed himself during the fall of that year. He was twenty years old. We were never close—spread across the eastern half of the U.S., my extended family typically gathers only every three or four years for a requisite wedding, graduation, or, in this case, a funeral.  Nonetheless, the image of his powdered face and overstuffed chest flash flooded my years of panicked perfectionism, dissolved carefully pleated calorie charts and diagrams of cellular respiration into bits of colored paper, arranging themselves into some visceral understanding of why he did it. Suicide—by gunshot, poison gas, alcohol, and silence—had marked both sides of my family tree, and I knew that no equations or scholarships could keep it from blossoming in my imagination as well.  Stuck in my cul-de-sac, I needed something open-ended. So, I started writing.  

It didn’t fix me.  I was bad at it, but I also learned how to honor imperfection.  My first poems were collections of teen angst clichés – hearts, oceans, and all – but poetry taught me resilience.  I started college as a biological engineering major, and by the middle of the first semester I switched to English and Spanish. The more I studied, the less things made sense.  Once, I wrote an entire paper about how I didn’t understand Ezra Pound, and that was okay.  

Junior year, I decided to seek professional treatment for my eating disorder and writing became a tool to free lies that had lain silent at the bottom of me for years.  I still struggled, still panicked watching my years’ worth of rules and self-control dissolve as I learned to cry open-ended instead of running in circles to numb out. But I learned to love open-ended too.  To give myself to others in a way that didn’t fit neatly into an equation; no matter the numbers, there was always some remainder left. And the better I learned to care for my body, the stronger my voice became.  Eventually, I heard about something called an MFA and decided to apply to graduate programs in creative writing (my undergraduate university didn’t offer a CW program).  

Graduate school has pushed me to rethink much of what I thought I knew about learning.  It’s introduced me to writers whose work has entirely shifted my relationship to language.  Poetry workshops have shattered my ideas about reading and writing and how a classroom can function.  Moving from a rather insular community in Arkansas to a new city stretched my sense of self in unexpected directions, and here I’ve found a group of writers and friends who continually teach me what it means to be fully human.   I’ve met mentors who honor my voice but also call me on my bullshit and push me to put my truth rather than just my intellect on the page. And I never would have guessed how hard that would be.  

So, I wasn’t born with a pen in my hand and a song in my heart.  Sorry if that’s what you were expecting. Hell, I didn’t even sing along with the radio as a kid.  But I do now. Writing taught me how to break patterns that would have tethered me to a legacy of silence and slow destruction.  Slowly, I’ve built a voice that’s no longer paper-thin, and it’s taken me far away from that old cul-de-sac, though I’ve still got farther to go.  

Emily Bradley is a second year MFA candidate at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where she teaches and serves as the assistant poetry editor of Grist: A Journal of the Literary Arts.  She loves poetry, falling asleep on the couch, and the color yellow.

Meet Our New Editorial Intern: Emma Hudson

Sundress Headshot 1

I never dreamed of being a writer, yet here I am: writing. Growing up, I daydreamed while taking bus rides home from school about having superpowers. I played outside on historic military weaponry like military brats living on base typically did back then. I also played inside, but only with my younger sister, who’s five years my junior—she was the only one who understood the importance of maintaining societal standards that reflected High School Musical.

I especially loved to pretend I was going to become a mega-rockstar. Maybe I still have time to fulfill that dream despite my complete lack of musical talent.

Until the day comes when I absorb superpowers or musical prowess, I enjoy writing: I want to write no matter if I attain any of these seemingly unrealistic qualities.

In my own right, I feel like a rockstar. My experience as a writer in middle school and high school was nonexistent outside of papers for class. I didn’t think much about those papers. I thought more about the books I read in school and in my free time.

Each English class I took throughout my years in high school typically ended up being my favorite class. I annotated, took notes, and participated in class—giving my take on how I thought Romeo and Juliet were more desperate than star-crossed and how drawing comparisons between characters like Heathcliff and Edward Cullen weren’t as applicable as my peers believed.

I had no idea where I wanted to go for my higher education experience. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do or become. My dad, my forever peer-reviewer, pointed out I was always reading and writing. Sure, I wrote rough drafts of story ideas on my laptop: I even dreamed about publishing a novel, one that could surpass the likes of John Green, whom I later discovered would be the center of some UTK Creative Writing Club jokes (Apologies Mr. Green, we mean well and admire your success).

I only applied for two schools and only for their writing programs. I got into both, but I picked the University of Tennessee. It wasn’t the bright orange beckoning me or because my dad graduated from the university in 1989 that I chose to come here. I came to discover myself.

If someone from today’s present went back to tell college freshman me that I would become motivated to join a lot of organizations thanks to the empowering music by seven men from South Korea, I would have no idea what to think.

Today, I still write more for class than anything else, but I love writing more than ever. As an English Major with a double concentration in rhetoric and creative writing, I’m learning about various forms of writing, challenging myself to write within multiple disciplines.

Since freshman year, I’ve been a member of UTK’s Creative Writing Club. Without my friends, I wouldn’t have the bravery to share my work. In the following year, I joined Honey Magazine in its first semester. Now I’m the Editor-in-Chief and hope to finalize our first publication by the end of the 2020 spring semester.

During the same year, I became a member of Sigma Tau Delta and ran for the Executive Board. In the year I’ve been a member, I will get the opportunity to present my rhetorical research on K-Pop group BTS and their fandom BTS ARMY at an international conference that focuses on literature. It’s crazy and a wild dream come true.

Another dream come true is getting to intern for Sundress. I might’ve never grown up dreaming of becoming a writer, but learning how to become a writing rockstar sounds amazing to me.

Emma Hudson is currently a third year student at the University of Tennessee working on her double concentration BA in English: Rhetoric and Creative Writing, along with a minor in retail consumer science. She’s a busy bee; she is the Editor-in-Chief of the up-and-coming Honey Magazine. Emma is also a long-time member and leader in UTK’s Creative Writing Club and on the Executive Board for UTK’s Sigma Tau Delta, Alpha Epsilon chapter. In her free time, she figures out how to include K-Pop group BTS into her research projects and watches “reality” tv shows.

Shitty First Drafts Release 12th Episode with Black Atticus

Sundress Publications announces the twelfth episode of the podcast, Shitty First Drafts.  A podcast made for and by writers, this show playfully investigates the creative processes of different artists to determine how a finished draft gets its polish.

In the twelfth episode of the Shitty First Drafts podcast, Brynn and Stephanie chat with Knoxville spoken-word legend, Black Atticus. 

He tells Brynn and Stephanie about his many names, how his love of retro comic books and hip hop lead him to poetry, and the audacity and vulnerability of slam.

Listen to hear two original spoken word poems as well as one of Black Atticus’ songs! Find him performing in and around Knoxville, TN with a show that rocks, raps, flows, & vibrates with every principal of Hip Hop culture: peace, fun, love, and unity.

Listen to Episode 12 here.

Black Atticus hails from Knoxville, TN with a show that rocks, raps, flows, & vibrates with every principal of Hip Hop culture: peace, fun, love, and unity.  His songs and lyrics are geared to heal and connect, and his poetry provides thoughtful insight and inspiration for all who listen.

SAFTA & Friends Present: A First Friday Variety Show

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present a First Friday Variety Show on Friday, February 7, 2020 from 7-9PM at The Casual Pint, Downtown. This free event, hosted by JoAnna Brooker, will feature musicians Redd Daugherty and Ryan Dunaway, poets Brynn Martin and Summer Awad, and comedians Ana Tantaris, Clinton Ricks, and Emaleigh Kierstin.

There will be raffle drawings to win a six-pack provided by the Pint, koozies, and Sundress Publications titles, and there will be a donation jar by the bar in support of Sundress. A portion of the sales of Miller Lite drafts during the event will be donated to Sundress Academy for the Arts.

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is a writer’s residency that hosts workshops, retreats, and residencies for writers in all genres including poetry, fiction, nonfiction, journalism, academic writing, playwriting, and more. All are guided by experienced instructors from a variety of creative disciplines who are dedicated to cultivating the literary arts in East Tennessee.

So come by and check it out on February 7, 2020 from 7-9PM at The Casual Pint, Downtown

Open Call for Poetry Broadside Contest

Sundress Publications is pleased to announce that we are now open for submissions for our poetry broadside contest. 

The winner’s poem will be letterpress-printed as an 8.5” x 11” broadside and made available for sale on our online store. The winner will receive $200 and 20 copies of their broadside. 

To submit, send up to three poems, no longer than 30 lines each (line limit includes stanza breaks but not the title), in one Word or PDF document to contest@sundresspublications.com by March 31st, 2020. Be sure to include a copy of your payment receipt or purchase order number (see below for payment of fees). Please make sure that no identifying information is included in the submitted poems.

The reading fee is $10 per batch of three poems, though the fee will be waived for entrants who purchase or pre-order any Sundress title. We will also accept nominations for entrants, provided the nominating person either pays the reading fee or makes a qualifying purchase. Authors may submit and/or nominate as many manuscripts as they would like, so long as each is accompanied by a separate reading fee or purchase/pre-order. Entrants and nominators can place book orders or pay submission fees at our store. Once the purchase is made, the store will send a receipt with a code. This code should be included in the submission.

Previously published material is welcome so long as you maintain the rights to the work. Let us know in your cover letter if any of your submitted poems have been previously published. 

Poems translated from another language will not be accepted. Simultaneous submissions are fine, but we ask that authors notify us immediately if their work has been accepted elsewhere; poems accepted for publication are still qualified provided the author retains the rights to the work.

Meet our New Intern: Mary B. Sellers

My sweet-tooth for stories and books is entirely my mother’s doing. From the beginning, she ingrained in me the importance of make-believe; the easy, seductive escapism that goes along with a good book. My childhood library was a vast, impressive thing, which my mother also had a hand in making. On my last visit home, I climbed the winding staircase with the odd bend in its middle up to my old bedroom, where I remembered seeing these childhood books last.

I found them neatly stacked—tall and glossy with the hardcover’s requisite fierce laminate shine—on the old twin-sized trundle bed, their pages stuck shut by time and that species-specific dust bunny native only to suburbia.

I tried to be gentle as I sifted through them, rereading some entirely like Audrey Wood’s King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, which I remember being one of my particular favorites as it was about a king who did just that—held court in his bathtub. Bubbles pop and soak marble floors while jesters make silly grimace-grins: I imagine it must have inspired from my then-toddler-self, a deep awe for the interdimensional aspects of the average-looking bathtub. Others, too, like Grandfather Twilight, about a kind old man who puts the moon in the sky after his evening walk each night; The Rainbabies, too—a classically structured folktale dealing in magic rain, the moon, and wishes coming true—depicted in careful sketching and pastel watercolors, soft and cool-toned.

The first time I “seriously” wrote anything was the summer my mother had her first manic episode (bipolar psychosis), and her first stint at the psych ward. It was the summer before eighth grade. It was also the last summer that my mother ever wrote anything seriously again. Specifically, I mean the book she’d started writing a few weeks after quitting her job as a speechwriter. I’d been beyond excited at the prospect of having a real-life author for a mother. I fantasized about this scenario, made sure to brag to my friends at school about it. My mother, the writer.

Because it was true, how it’d always been: my mother was the writer in the family; the reader, the dreamy girl who spent her teenage weekends with bent, seventies’ paperbacks. Looking back on photos of my mother as a teenager and young twenty-something, I see a pretty girl with olive skin and dark fly-away hair who seems to always be laughing with a book in hand. It’s the true sort of happiness that’s hard to fake. Bliss, joy, a silliness I’ve never seen on her. There’s light in those black eyes of hers, and the skin around her happy mouth is stretched tight and young with delight. I wish I’d known her then, could talk to that version of her now that I’m grown.

Originally from Jackson, MS, I now live and work in Seattle, WA, with my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who I (nerdily) christened Daisy Buchanan after the leading lady in The Great Gatsby. (I’ve always loved her ‘beautiful little fool’ quote towards the beginning of the novel.) I currently am a part time children’s creative writing instructor for Pacifica Writers’ Workshop, a Split Lip Press nonfiction reader, and a freelance writer. Side hustles include: web development, selling on Poshmark, dog sitting, and trying to write a novel.

I graduated with a BA in English Literature from the University of Mississippi in 2013 and an MFA in Creative Writing with a Fiction emphasis from Louisiana State University in 2018, where I served as graduate prose editorial assistant for The Southern Review, social media editor for New Delta Review, and cohost for the Underpass Readers & Writers series. In 2018, my graduate thesis—a hybrid novel, Rapunzel Has Insomnia—was a finalist for the University of New Orleans Publishing Laboratory Prize.

My fiction, essays, articles, and reviews appear in Psychopomp Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, Grimoire, Third Point Press, Sidereal Magazine, Crab Fat Magazine, Literary Orphans, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Dream Pop Press, The New Southern Fugitives, Click Magazine, Mississippi Magazine, Young Professionals of Seattle, and New Delta Review, among others.

For the past decade, I’ve attempted to keep at least one toe in the book publishing and literary worlds, which is why I have such eclectic work experiences: summer editorial assistantships for lifestyle magazines, an NYC-based literary agent, and a couple of online magazines, and Thacker Mountain Radio, a weekly radio show. Fresh out of college I even worked for Fat Possum Records, a record label located in my college town of Oxford, MS, while studying for the GRE and applying to 12 MFA programs. After being rejected from all 12 schools and subsequent identity crisis, I spent the next year working remotely as associate publisher for the small indie press Blooming Twig Books and freelance writing. They would later go on to be kind enough to publish my first collection of short stories, Shoulder Bones, in 2014.

During my time in graduate school, I had the opportunity to live and workshop my writing abroad for one month in Prague, thanks to the 2016 Prague Summer Writers Program. Also, in 2017, I participated in the Sewanee Summer Writers Residency. Recently, my short story “The Other Mother” was second runner up in Psychopomp Magazine’s 2019 Short Fiction Contest. My personal essay “Inheritance: A Timeline” was nominated for a 2019 Best of the Net award, and my short story “Alice and the Moon” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.


Mary B. Sellers lives and works in Seattle, WA, and is at work on her second book, a novel of autofiction. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Mississippi and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Louisiana State University. Most recently her writing has appeared in Psychopomp Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, Grimoire, Third Point Press, Sidereal Magazine, and Young Professionals of Seattle.

Project Bookshelf with Editorial Intern Peyton Vance

My bookcase is black wood, made to look smarter and sharper than it truly is. They say readers treat their books like they do their lovers. I hope that isn’t the case.

While some may highlight their favorite lines, dog-ear pages they reread, or annotate the work until it is a kaleidoscope of paper, I take a different approach.

 I slide off dust covers when reading, as to not damage the books. I do my best not to touch the pages, in fear of ruining the delicate paper with my oily hands. Don’t get me wrong, I do love books. Part of me wishes I could slide a novella in my bag, and read it on the beach, underlining sentences I wish I had come up with. But I’m not that brave. I’m not an Andy who plays with his toys. I’m Al, from Al’s Toybarn, keeping my toys behind a thin pane of glass.

From bottom to top, my bookcase is arranged strategically. Level one is the most haphazard, closest to the ground and least likely to be seen. This is where I keep “smart books”, year books, and paper books I collect coins in. The “smart books” are The Sun Also Rises, Frankenstein, The Grapes of Wrath, and other works that make me feel inferior. 

Above them, is the kid’s shelf, with books I love that are simple. I keep them knowing, hoping, that my kids will enjoy them too. 

Above that, on the third level is my YA section, with killing, love, and everything except sex. Level four is strictly reserved for Stephen King, on a life sentence.

The highest level is the Geek shelf. Where Watchman sits next to Fall of Reach, which sits next to Darth Plagueis… If this didn’t clue anyone in, then the massive Master Chief helmet I bought on eBay for much more than it was worth, will. 

It’s organized, but messy. The levels sit on top of one another with not one thread of cohesion. I’ve even got bastardized shelves around my room because I ran out of space.

Next to my bed, there’s the shelf that holds every Walking Dead volume, right beside my George R.R. Martin shelf with all five books, with one space left for another that may never come.

 I’m clearing off a space, now in my closet for future books to be read. And it’s growing slower than I want it, but faster than I know.

Peyton Vance is a senior at the University of Tennessee. He’s had five pieces published this year and is also currently the prose editor at the Phoenix Literary Magazine. He loves writing in any form whether it be poetry, prose, photos, plays or any other word that doesn’t start with a P. Peyton wants to eventually get into production and screenwriting and does not want to become homeless when he grows up. His favorite food is pizza.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents “Finding an Appetite: Poetry, Creative Nonfiction, and Food Writing”

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is proud to present the next installment of their workshop series, “Finding an Appetite: Poetry Creative Nonfiction, and Food Writing.”  This workshop will be led by Katie Culligan and will be held in Room 252 in the Hodges Library from 6 to 7 pm on October 28th. This event is free and open to the public.

Mark Twain said, “Part of the secret of success is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.” When we begin to consider this active role that food plays in our lives and bodies, we must think about the senses, the land we live on, our families, both nuclear and national, and the labor-system-latticework we all must somehow live in the cracks of. In this workshop, we will investigate together how these considerations, and how food writing in general, can enrich your personal essays and poetry. If you’ve ever grown a mint plant in your kitchen, or waited a table, or eaten a hot dog that your mother cut up to look like an octopus, then you have enough to write about for the foreseeable future. Writers we read together will include those who specialize in both journalism and lyric nonfiction. We will not be reading Mark Twain.

Katie Culligan is a nonfiction writer living in Knoxville, TN, where she is the Fall 2019 Writer in Residence at Sundress Academy for the Arts. She is the recipient of the 2019 Eleanora Burke Award for Nonfiction and the Margaret Artley Woodruff Award for Creative Writing from the University of Tennessee. Recent work appears in Geometry, Noble/ Gas Qtrly, Columbia Journal, American Chordata, and others. She can be reached at katieculliganwriting.com

This event is co-sponsored by the University of Tennessee Creative Writing Program and is free and open to the public.

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is an artists’ residency that hosts workshops, retreats, and residencies for writers, actors, filmmakers, and visual artists. All are guided by experienced, professional instructors from a variety of creative disciplines who are dedicated to cultivating the arts in East Tennessee.

Meet Our New Editorial Intern: Peyton Vance


I’ve been a writer, in a sense, for as long as I can remember. Even before I knew how to spell my name I was conjuring up stories about spaceships and adventurers, making my own toys and building worlds around them.

Countless trees have fallen victim to my adolescent phases, such as drawing comic book spoofs of TV episodes. Dozens of mismatched comics I believed were worth millions, now sit in a folder in my closet, where they’ve been seen by 3 people, myself included.

When I was older, I started writing novels. Well, not exactly novels. More like the first two pages of the first chapter of the first part of a single novel. I would do this about a dozen times before I realized I was not good at writing.

Once I was in high school, I started taking creative writing classes. I received runner up for a stage play called “Olympus Family Therapy”. My mom helped me write it. She was an AP English teacher, so she got runner up for a stage play called “Olympus Family Therapy”. And I was still not good at writing.

Shockingly, my parents did not cry when I told them I’d be an English major, concentration; creative writing. And that’s where I was thrown in the deep end. My writing muscles went into maximum overdrive, and I wrote stage plays, screenplays, short stories, fiction, nonfiction, and even a web horror comic.

I have worked with UT’s literary arts magazine, The Phoenix, for over a year. I am the current prose editor. I’m also a creative intern for UnwarranTed, UT’s comedy sketch group. This year alone I have published 5 different pieces. I hope to publish and write more.

When people ask me what I want to be when I graduate, I tell them I am going to be a professional homeless person. I then explain it’s because I want to go into production, write screenplays or draw storyboards, and eventually pitch my own cartoon.

I’m still trying to be a better writer, and working with Sundress will not only help me learn, but it’ll be a crap ton of fun.

Sundress Announces the Release of Gender Flytrap

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FlytrapSundress Publications announces the release of Zoë Estelle Hitzel’s collection, Gender Flytrap. In this debut collection, Hitzel ambitiously portrays transgender experiences and confronts the systems and culture that initiate violence against the gendered body.

To see and be seen begets presumption and therefore is an act of violence, a violence that dictates how a person should look, act, and even perceive the world around them. Gender Flytrap delves into the multifaceted nature of prejudice from gendered stereotypes to a broken healthcare system to the realization that everything—including transness—is filtered through a cisnormative lens. Hitzel’s debut collection is an authentic portrayal of the constant hurt that a trans experience entails in a toxic, hegemonic culture where trauma is inherent to the trans existence.

After reading this collection, Nicole Walker, author of The After-Normal: Brief, Alphabetical Essays on a Changing Planet, and Sustainability: A Love Story states, “I’ve never understood better than I do now or with such elegance and grace, that our bodies, and our words, are not for the taking.”

ZoeZoë Estelle Hitzel earned her MA in Creative Writing/Poetry at Northern Arizona University and her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Oregon State University. She is the 2019 Ofstad Writer in Residence at Truman State University. Her work has appeared in Blue Lyra Review, entropy, pacific REVIEW, and elsewhere.

Hitzel blogs about her transgender experience at znoted.wordpress.com. A citizen of the wind, she scores standardized tests remotely from Missouri, writes and edits freelance, and drums in the blues band, Deadwood.

Order your copy today!