Author Archives: Understorey Magazine

Focus on Black Writers

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In support of the Black Lives Matter movement, especially the protests occurring throughout May and June of 2020, we have collected some of the poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction published by Black writers in Understorey Magazine, as well as a new poem by African Nova Scotian writer Robyn Martelly. We have also updated and re-printed Issue 12, a full issue by and about African Nova Scotian Women. We recognise that systemic racism also affects Indigenous people and other people of colour. For more creative work on these topics, see our Teaching/Book Club page and our Past Issues.

Our Future, Our Story: New Climate-Writing by Youth

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In October 2019, Understorey Magazine and the Alexa McDonough Institute organised a two-day workshop for youth. The focus was on writing about the climate and ecological crisis: journalism, poetry, spoken word, fiction, essay.

From that workshop, and several subsequent workshops, the website Our Future, Our Story emerged.

The site publishes climate-writing by youth in Canada. By March 2020, the site—including vetting and editing submissions, posting articles, design work, and promotion—will be youth-led and youth-run.

Please share information about OFOS and follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

screenshot showing homepage for OFOS website


CLOSED Re Nature: Writing on a World under Threat

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Free Editing Services for Issue 17

Have something to say about climate change — and not sure how to say it?

Passionate about the environment but new to literary writing?

Understorey Magazine aims to inspire new and emerging writers, as well as support established writers. For Issue 17, we are offering free editing services. Send us your stories and poems. We will send our thoughts on what already works and what can be improved. We can’t publish everything we receive — but we can help you polish your writing and find a place to share it with the world. All submissions must adhere to our general guidelines.

Call for Submissions

Re Nature: Writing on a World under Threat

Understorey Magazine invites submissions of critical writing & visual art
– for a nature in crisis.

  • How can we reflect on a natural world that is threatened by our own presence?
  • How should we move beyond reflection to inspire action?
  • How does environmental crisis dis/affect women in particular?
  • How might it further marginalise those already at the margins?

Open to submissions of prose, poetry, visual art – and creative recombinations of these forms – by writers and artists in Canada who identify as women or non-binary.

Honorarium available for accepted work.

See full submission guidelines here.

Deadline: September 30, 2019

CLOSED Diverse Stories of Women on Stage

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Text-only follows the graphic below.

Understorey Magazine seeks stories that illuminate the diverse experiences of women* on stage and in performance in Canada.

Send us plays/performance texts that bring the lives and voices of womyn to the forefront.

We are also looking for prose and poetry by women directors, actors, and producers about their experience in Canadian theatre.

Issue editor: Award-winning playwright & professor at Mount Royal University, Natalie Meisner


Honorarium available for accepted work.

1,500 words maximum.

See full submission guidelines here.


*Our definition of women welcomes trans women, non-binary, and genderqueer individuals.

Femmes francophones du Canada atlantique

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Nouveau délai: 3 mai 2019

Nous invitons les contributions des femmes des communautés, des dialectes, des cultures et des histoires francophones divers du Canada atlantique, incluant mais sans s’y limiter, acadiens, brayons, métis français, français terre-neuvien, et de plus, des résidentes actuelles venant des régions francophones du monde.

Understorey Magazine publie les histoires des vies des femmes comme racontées à travers la fiction, la non-fiction créative, la poésie, le drame et les arts visuels.


Racontez-nous une histoire de votre vie et de votre langue:

  • Comment est-ce que la langue et la culture déterminent votre quotidien au Canada atlantique?
  • Comment est-ce qu’elles influencent vos traditions de longue date?
  • Comment préservez-vous votre langue à travers les générations?
  • Comment vous la laissez tomber?
  • Comment entrez-vous en contact avec les ou restez-vous à l’écart des communautés d’expression française?


Les contributions sont ouvertes aux écrivaines qui s’identifient en tant que femmes et sont des citoyennes canadiennes ou les résidentes permanentes et/ou s’identifient comme première nation, métis ou inuite.


Edité par Rohini Bannerjee, Saint Mary’s University

Veuillez voir les directives de soumission.

Date limite : 3 mai 2019

Recently Closed: Age

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Please read general submission guidelines here.

A text version of our call for submissions follows the graphic below.

Understorey Magazine seeks stories of ageing while female.

What is too old? What is too young?

Why do these questions matter more for women than men?

How can we move beyond age in our conversations, workplace, media and perceptions of ourselves?

Understorey Magazine publishes stories of women’s lives told through personal essay, poetry, literary fiction, spoken word (audio), illustration and visual art.

This call is open to writers and artists who identify as female or non-binary and also identify as Canadian, First Nations or Metis, or currently live in Canada.

For Issue 14, we extend a special invitation to writers and artists who are new to their craft but experienced in life!

Deadline: September 15, 2018

Sharon Bala on Writing The Boat People

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“I’m an extrovert, in case you haven’t noticed,” Sharon Bala says, her enthusiasm and warmth carrying across the phone from chilly Newfoundland to chilly Nova Scotia. She’s commenting on the hectic schedule for launching and promoting her new book, The Boat People. “It’s demanding,” Sharon says, “even for an extrovert.”

The Boat People (McClelland and Stewart, 2018) was inspired by events in 2010 when the Sun Sea cargo ship brought almost five hundred Sri Lankan Tamils to British Columbia. All of the passengers made refugee claims in Canada but were detained amidst heightened security concerns stirred by the Harper government. Bala writes her novel around Mahindan, a single father travelling with his son, Sellian, but the The Boat People shifts viewpoints, giving readers a broad and enlightening perspective. We not only hear Mahindan, but also Grace, the adjudicator in Mahindan’s case, and Priya, his lawyer.

The Boat People has earned rave reviews. Bala also won the 2017 Journey Prize for her short story “Butter Tea at Starbucks” and was long-listed for the same prize for “Reading Week.”

Sharon Bala took time to talk with Understorey Magazine editor Katherine Barrett about her novel and the writing process. Continue reading

Conversation with Jade Brooks

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The Teen Sex Trade: My Story (Formac 2017) is a no-holds-barred account of human trafficking in Canada. Author Jade Brooks, now 25, was born in Toronto and grew up in Halifax. At age 11, she was put into foster care and by age 17 found herself lured into the sex trade. While her memoir tells her own harrowing tale, Jade says far too many young women can relate to her experiences.

Understorey Magazine had the chance to speak with Jade about her story and the process of writing her first book.

UM: Were you hesitant to be so open and vulnerable when telling your story?

JB: Vulnerable is something I have always been and will always be to some extent. I wasn’t hesitant to be vulnerable and open in sharing my story. Although it was challenging (and embarrassing) at times, I knew that the truth was bigger than those feelings and that it had to get out there.

UM: How long did it take to write the manuscript?

JB: The first draft of the book took approximately six months. Once I signed my contract with the publisher, the editing process took another year or so until it was officially finished and ready for print. There was a period of about six months between finishing the first draft and signing on with the publisher.

UM: What (or who) inspired you to write the book?

JB: A friend of mine was the initial inspiration for the book. In telling him a bit of what I’d been through, he suggested I write a book. He said that I may save someone’s life. Once I really dove into my writing, it was healing.

UM: You’re also a poet. Is writing a form of therapy for you?

JB: Poetry and writing are not only therapy for me, they are peace of mind. They are how I solve problems. Writing enables me to express myself freely, helping me to understand myself and the world around me.

UM: You recently gave birth to twins. How do you feel about them reading your book once they are older?

JB: I feel having them read the book is crucial to their development as young people, as humans. I feel that they need to know that this happens. What better way to discuss it with them than to have been through it myself.

UM: What is the one message you want readers to take from the book?

JB: One message, among many, is that abuse is not normal, no matter the ways in which it manifests itself.

UM: What is your message to other girls going through the same thing?

JB: I want young girls to know that what they are experiencing is not their fault. Guilt is a very heavy burden to carry and I know because I’ve carried it. I want to let them know that their love (for their pimp) is valid, but the things they have to sacrifice proves that his love is not reciprocated. Love isn’t supposed to hurt; it doesn’t require you to sell any part of yourself. Also, when they are ready to leave, they will find a way. The female spirit is resilient and can only be held down for so long before it rises.

UM: In the book, you mention the sex trade is a common part of people’s lives in the community where you lived. Why do you think this is and how do we break this cycle?

JB: I think it is in response to intentional systemic barriers that Black people have faced over many generations. I’ve learned from a therapist that I used to work with that when a human being is denied its power for so long, it will do just about anything to regain that power, even things that are harmful or unethical. The male and female roles in this crime/lifestyle are attempts to get out of poverty, to seek love where there once was none, to feel some sort of freedom and autonomy over oneself. There is more to be said about why this is normal, but that is some of what I’ve observed. We break the cycle by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, as I have done in my book, and educating ourselves as well as our children and our peers. We must first admit that it’s a problem, be open about our experiences and make a conscious decision to live better, to treat our male and female counterparts with more respect. This has to be dealt with on a human level because a lot of perpetrators and victims don’t even look at themselves or others as worthy of basic respect. Once we come together with that type of foundation, then we can look at breaking down systemic barriers that keep us in poverty, both locally and globally.

UM: In the epilogue, you mention a second book. What will it be about?

JB: My second book will detail how I came to a place of peace within myself, the experiences I had along the way and the lessons I learned that allowed me to understand myself and trust my intuition. It will likely be less of a story and structured more as a guide book. That’s the vision I have right now. It could change.

What to Read Next

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Books by African Nova Scotian Women & Women of African Descent in Nova Scotia

Wanda Thomas Bernard
Still Fighting for Change: Black Social Workers in Canada (Pottersfield Press). Essays/research.
Jade H. Brooks
The Teen Sex Trade: My Story (Formac Publishing). Memoir.
Louise Delisle
Back Talk: Plays of Black Experience (Fernwood Publishing). Drama.
Up Home
Apples and Butterflies.
The City Speaks in Drums.
The Walking Bathroom (Nimbus Publishing). Children’s literature.
Gugu Hlongwane
Electric Fences and Other Stories (Mawenzi House). Short fiction.
Sylvia D. Hamilton
And I Alone Escaped To Tell You (Gaspereau Press). Poetry.
Guyleigh Johnson
Expect the Unexpected (Pottersfield Press). Poetry/spoken word.
El Jones
Live from the Afrikan Resistance! (Fernwood Publishing). Poetry/spoken word.
Lindsay Ruck
Wanda Lauren Taylor
Ride or Die (Lorimer). YA literature.
Birchtown and the Black Loyalists (Nimbus Publishing). Nonfiction.
Woman Talking Woman.
Borrowed Beauty.
Save the World for Me (Nimbus Publishing). Poetry.
Gloria Ann Wesley
If This Is Freedom (Fernwood Publishing). Fiction
Chasing Freedom (Fernwood Publishing). YA fiction.

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