stories, poems, essays
all written on brown paper lunch bags
How It Works
Paper Bag Writers is currently closed to submissions.
Sign up for our e-newsletter to be notified of our next submission cycle.
Write Your Story
Write your story, poem or essay
on a brown paper lunch bag.
You can use both the front and back.
Remember, you are limited to writing
on the bag.
Be sure to scan the bag when you're done so you have a copy of your work.
Need a writing prompt?
Follow/like PBW on social media
for daily prompts during
open submission cycles.
Mail to Us
If you want to be considered for publication on the site, print out the submission form and mail the completed form, along with your bag, to us.
Get Approved for Publication
If we think your submission is a good fit for our site, we'll contact you about publishing your bag in our Featured Writers section.
Become a Featured Writer
We upload an image of your bag to the website, along with a brief bio and link(s) to where people can read more of your writing. We promote your bag via Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Pinterest.
A beloved member of my writing group passed away in February 2016. In her honor, I am posting a piece she shared with us, written in her own hand on a paper bag. Our group facilitator and PBW mentor/supporter/featured writer, Jan Haag, wrote this beautiful bio/obit in celebration of her life. We'll miss you, Heide. - Ed.
Hideko Saito Juchnik was born the granddaughter of the last of a samurai line in Fukushima prefecture, Japan, in 1929. Heide, as she became known, immigrated to the United States in the 1950s with her American husband, Bill, and they lived for a time in his hometown of Pottsville, Pennsylvania.
The Juchniks eventually moved to Sacramento where, after Bill retired from the Air Force, they owned and operated a stamp and coin shop. Heide trained as a hair stylist in the early 1970s, and she worked in that field for some time. She came to Sacramento City College after her retirement, taking classes from 1999 to 2013 and earning two associate of arts degrees with honors—one in Social Sciences and one in Communication.
She came to write in a Saturday morning writing group in an old "temporary" building on campus after taking a class called "Writing as a Healing Art." She was part of that writing group for more than five years. This paper bag piece of Heide's was born in that writing group.
Hideko Saito Juchnik died Feb.16, 2016, in Sacramento, California, at the age of 86. She is much missed by her friends and fellow writers.
After the Sunset
Heather Ayres contributes to the geek culture website Eat/Geek/Play where she explores the things that set her heart aflutter. By night she dives deep into the sea of fiction and recently self-published the modern folklore short story The Water.
Find out more at Heather's website at heatherayres.com
A Manual for Living with Defeat
Barbara Bruederlin is a freelance writer and music nerd who left behind the world of neuroscience. She specializes in feature articles, reviews and issues affecting the arts community. Barbara writes web content for East Village Experience, blogs for National Music Centre, and is a long-time regular contributor to BC Musician Magazine and No Depression. An advocate for emerging musicians, artists and theatre companies, who also dabbles in concert promotion and convention planning, she loves architecture, walkable cities and twangy guitars. And she is still a sucker for a really cool science story.
Untitled Letter to Harper Lee
Katie McCleary is a writer, teacher, mother, activist, daughter, bookworm, home cook, starling watcher, and beauty archivist. Her first novel, Blinded, is currently being shopped. This letter to Harper Lee is from the main character of Blinded, Robin. However, the novel is based on real life, chronicling Katie/Robin's adventures growing up rural Idaho with a blind sister who has a severe mental disability and is on the Autism spectrum. Katie is also the founder of 916 Ink, a literacy nonprofit that transforms everyday Sacramento kids and teens into published authors as a way to increase literacy skills and empower them to live healthier lives. You can learn more about Katie at www.katiemccleary.com.
Lon's Werewolf Academy
Aden's biggest passion in life is writing. He keeps his creative fire burning by playing around in other people's universes, while working on creating his own. Aden's first novel "Pick Up Styx" is currently in its infancy.
Follow Aden Penn on Twitter.
Marilyn Reynolds is the author of ten books of young adult fiction in the award-winning “True-to-Life Series from Hamilton High.” Covering sensitive topics ranging from teen pregnancy to bullying, the series has received praise from teens and adults alike. Reynolds also has a book for teachers, I Won’t Read and You Can’t Make Me: Reaching Reluctant Teen Readers. An experienced Reading/English teacher, Reynolds frequently leads workshops for writers and/or teachers. She currently works with 916 Ink, a Sacramento organization devoted to increasing youth literacy through creative writing. Her most recent book is Over 70 and I Don't Mean MPH.
It Started with a Whisper
Kim Rutledge is a former journalist and blogger who now works in California state politics. Her writing and editing has appeared in many online and print publications, including the Los Angeles Times, AOL, and the Sacramento Bee. A native of Kansas, she is not amused by "Wizard of Oz" jokes. Kim holds a Bachelor's of Journalism from the University of Missouri and a Master's of Social Welfare from UCLA. She lives in Sacramento with her feisty polydactyl cat, Oscar. When she can actually remember her password, she can be found being snarky on Twitter as @ms_r.
You Don't Quit
Will Secrist is a starving writer who lives outside of Seattle where the rents aren't preposterous. He grew up outside of Philadelphia and misses proper Fat Kid food. His patient wife indulges in his eccentricities and his two cats, Bertrand and Matilda, silently judge him pretty much all the time.
Sue Staats’ fiction and poetry have been published, or is forthcoming, in The Los Angeles Review, Farallon Review, r.kv.r.y, Alimentum, a Journal of Food, Tule Review, and others. She earned an MFA from Pacific University, and was a recent finalist for the Gulf Coast Prize in Fiction and the Nisqually Prize in Fiction. Her stories have been performed at the Sacramento reading series “Stories on Stage” and at the SF Bay-area reading series “Why There Are Words.” She’s currently working on a collection of linked short stories.
Hard to Hear
C. S. Bevins
Sue has been a driver, a drummer and a drugstore clerk, but always a writer, and considers it an honor. She was born and raised in central California, but her family’s deep southern roots often inform her writing in mysterious ways. Sue writes poetry, creative nonfiction and fiction, and is a proud member of the River Song writer’s group.
Blue Jays in California
Robert Craig has been writing emails since email was invented. (He’s written a lot of emails.) These days, if he’s not writing an email (and he’s not drawing in the dirt with a stick), you might find him paddling his kayak somewhere among the calm inland reaches of California’s currently-shrinking waterways.
A Test of Faith
Two years ago my world came tumbling down. I tried desperately to cling to anything that made sense. Until I finally let go. And began working on me. My cards began to align in a way that I can only explain as fate. Today, I am happier than I have ever been - living in a city I've always talked about moving to, working in a career that literally could have been taken from my dreams, surrounded by people who love me for me. These are personal journal entries showing my lows and highs. Live your dreams. Share your passion.
Christine Houser reads, writes, studies, and teaches flash-length creative nonfiction in Seattle. Her stories have been published in a variety of anthologies and journals, and she writes a how-to blog at www.flashmemoirs.com. For story fodder, Chris travels near & far and can often be found eavesdropping on the San Juan Islands ferries. Find her on Twitter @flashmemoirs and #cnf (creative nonfiction).
From November 20, 2013:
Momcat would have been 71 today. In thinking about the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination, a defining moment in the history of the United States, I considered the concept of time and how its shape is undefinable, yet we are always attempting to give it form and substance. This essay is my attempt to define what time means as it relates to the loss of the woman who inspired Paper Bag Writers.
The Great Coat
Jonathan Simpson prefers the company of extraordinary books over ordinary people. Always available, never judging and seldom disappointing, they wait for their turn patiently in piles by his bedside. With BFF’s John Irving, Joan Didion, Carson McCullers, Harper Lee and David Sedaris, who really needs friends? A collection of his many short autobiographical narratives promises to emerge.
Read more of Jonathan's work at his website.
"In From Out of the Cold"
Shawn Aveningo is an internationally published, multi-award-winning poet who hosts the Verse on the Vine™ poetry show. She’s performed in San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Sausalito, Sacramento and St. Louis. Her work has been published in over 50 anthologies, literary journals and e-zines, including Pirene’s Fountain, Nazar Look: Metric Conversions, Nefarious Ballerina, Convergence, Poetry Now, Tule Review, From the Four Chambered Heart: Tribute to Anais Nin and Haunted Waters Press Quarterly. She’s a Show-Me girl from Missouri, a Summa Cum Laude graduate from University of Maryland and a very proud mother of three. And she absolutely loves shoes – especially red ones! (www.RedShoePoet.com)
C.S. “Sue” Bevins
Sue has been a driver, a drummer and a drugstore clerk, but always a writer, and considers it an honor. She was born and raised in central California, but her family’s deep southern roots often inform her writing in mysterious ways. In the past year, Sue successfully completed a NaNoWriMo contest (writing 50,000 words in a month) and completed a draft for her first novel, Pitiful Circle. Sue writes poetry, creative nonfiction and fiction, and is a proud member of the River Song writer’s group.
“Ode to Peanut Butter”
Linda Jackson Collins
Linda Jackson Collins writes poems, runs and bicycles, but not all at the same time. She has served as editor-in-chief of the Sacramento Poetry Center’s journal, Tule Review. Her own poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Cape Rock, Late Peaches, Walrus, American River Review, The Poeming Pigeon and elsewhere. On weekends, she can be found pedaling up the hills of El Dorado.
“June 26, 2015”
Christine Easterly is a poet living in Sacramento, California where she can also be found swimming with her local Masters team and haunting the neighborhood library. Christine has been published in Sacramento Voices and Soul of the Narrator.
Julie Gardner worked and published in the early childhood education and counseling fields for over 40 years. During the last decade she returned to writing and studying the art and craft. Daily, she writes as a spiritual practice. Less frequently, when she's not lured away by wandering in the city or Olympic/Cascade Mountains, she works on a book from her Seattle home. As an Amherst Writers and Artists Affiliate she leads writing groups and retreats. Julie loves leading weekly writing with homeless/formerly homeless women at Mary’s Place, a day shelter which helps women to reclaim their lives.
"Ode to a Paper Bag"
Jan Haag is a poet and novelist who teaches English and journalism at Sacramento City College. She is the author of a book of poetry, Companion Spirit, as well as a young adult novel, Ocean Falls, and a new novel set in Sacramento. She is affiliated with Amherst Writers & Artists and leads writing workshops in the Sacramento area using the AWA method. Visit her website at www.janishaag.com.
"A Natural History of Desire"
Bethanie Humphreys’ poetry has appeared in the Sacramento Poetry Center’s anthology Late Peaches, Tule Review, American River Review, The Gap Toothed Madness, and a persona poem of hers was performed in River City Anthology at the Wilkerson Theater in October 2013. She also integrates poems and other explorations into mixed media visual art. Currently her work can be seen in Wax On at Davis Arts Center (Davis, California) Aug 6-Sept 5, 2014. Her studio (chosen as curator’s pick!) will be open to the public for Sacramento Studio Tours Sept 20-21, 2014. See more at kitchentangents.com, and facebook.com/BethanieHumphreysmixedmediaarts.
Shannon M. Kelly
Shannon M. Kelly has been writing poetry from a young age, inspired by the world around her and the requisite teen angst. The inspiration for this untitled poem came via a Paper Bag Writers prompt to write a piece that included at least 3 of the following words: supermarket, verisimilitude, jellybean and leaping. A lover of cats and nature hikes, Shannon resides on the eastern shore of the United States.
Just trying to make a living in Spokane, Cindy Magi writes, draws, quilts and knits when she isn't at work as a hospice nurse. Recognizing a need to increase comfort with dying, Cindy has started a blog which can be seen and responded to at http://deathdignity.com/
"The First Kiss..."
Laura Martin is an Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) affiliate and has been leading the Sacramento Thursday Night Writers group since the fall of 2011. She is also a member of the “Team Haag” writing group led by fellow AWA leader Jan Haag in Sacramento. In 2012, Laura won the grand prize in the Second Annual Pat Schneider Poetry Contest and was also nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry. Laura also fronts The Soft Offs - a spoken word/jazz/blues/beer band that takes the written word from page to stage in the hopes of converting those who hate poetry into lovers of MOETRY!
Dawn Orosco is a 3rd grade teacher whose love affair with creative writing began in elementary school. She spent many mornings of her childhood plugging away on an old electric typewriter in hopes of dazzling her teacher and classmates with her latest short story. She has traded the typewriter for a MacBook Pro, but still finds she does her best writing when she is working against a deadline. Her work will appear in the upcoming issue of The Poeming Pigeon.
Carolyn Ralston writes poetry and creative nonfiction with AWA groups in Sacramento. Her work has been published in Tule Review, Sacramento Voices, and Susurrus. She has a special interest in Poetry of Witness.
"The Mystery of Synchronicity"
Pia Sieroty Spector
Pia is a writer and poet living in Northern California. She is a Los Angeles transplant that has grown to love the beauty of this valley and its proximity to the mountains and lakes and wineries and everything else that calls for adventuring in the San Francisco Bay area. She has two grown daughters who are pursuing their dreams, so she is too. Pia facilitates a number of writing groups; you can find out more about joining her to write what needs to be written and read her blog at PiaSierotySpector.com.
Martha Stromberger is a poet, musician, and visual artist living in Sacramento. She is currently putting together a portfolio for submission to MFA poetry programs, as well as an all-female metal band. Ms. Stromberger received a BA in English Literature from Arizona State University. Her poetry blog is located at arhavalkyr.blogspot.com. Music and a smattering of visual art may be discovered on her Facebook profile.
"A Green Love Note"
Quick, Think Omaha
This story, which begins with a tag line taken from an advertisement in Southwest Airline's in-flight magazine, was originally written on an air sickness bag (see image) and was the inspiration for starting Paper Bag Writers.
Quick, think Omaha. The town you left at 18 when it seemed as if the world beyond your father's fields of corn and soybeans was much more promising than you ever could imagine, full of light and glitz and movie stars, all the wifi you could use and the best caramel lattes ever. Because to believe otherwise means you have to accept that Omaha is all there ever will be for you, and all you can ever hope to achieve is an office job at your brother's insurance firm, pushing papers back and forth day in, day out, watching the analog clock at your desk with the bull logo tick down to five o'clock. But you refuse to think that; you refuse all the trappings of that life and instead you buy a one-way ticket to Las Vegas and fill a beat up duffel bag with all your clothes that still fit and a new pair of bright purple stilettos. Because you're going to go there and make a name for yourself, you're going to be somebody. Otherwise it's back to Omaha and Daddy's corn field and you never wanted to be the heiress to a soybean fortune, anyway.
- C. Litchfield
Open Submissions 2015
I really need a writing prompt.
We totally understand. You can follow/like us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to see daily prompts during the submission cycle. If you're not using any of those social media platforms, contact us and we'll send you a week's worth of writing prompts.
How much will it cost me to mail my submission to you?
Since we don't know where you're located, it's hard to say. Our experience during beta testing was that it cost approximately US $1.00 to mail a single brown paper lunch bag in a 9 x 12 manila envelope. Check with your local post office to be sure.
How soon will I find out if my bag has been accepted for publication?
Our plan is to respond within 6-8 weeks of receipt. If we get crazy busy with submissions, it may take a little longer. We'll post an update on our social media accounts if we are running behind schedule.
When will you begin posting featured writers on the site?
If all goes well, we'll start in early July and continue through the fall and winter.
What's the point of this site?
The simple answer: Paper Bag Writers exists to showcase how people are tapping into their creativity by using a familiar object in a new way.
If this all started because of air sickness bags, why aren’t you using those?
Because it is so much easier to find brown paper lunch bags. For our open submissions cycle starting March 2015, you'll be able to submit original stories, poems and essays written on air sickness bags.
Did other passengers think you were weird for writing on air sickness bags?
Probably. There was one instance where two young girls in my row asked me what I was doing, and admitted they thought I didn't know what the bag was for.
Do you still write on air sickness bags?
Yes. Once I get on the plane and settle into my seat, I pull out the air sickness bag and my trusty Sharpie, flip open to a random page in the in-flight magazine, set the timer on my phone for 5 minutes, and begin writing. I'm usually done before the flight attendants do their safety checks.
Can I interview someone at Paper Bag Writers for an article I'm writing?
Sure! Send us an email.
Writing and Getting Published on PBW
What should I write on the bag?
Whatever you feel moved to write. A short story, a poem, a personal essay, creative nonfiction. We do ask that you refrain from erotica or graphic violence.
How many words fit on the bag?
Approximately 500 handwritten words fit on the bag - that’s 250 words per side.
What if I make a spelling mistake on the bag?
To avoid mistakes, we highly recommend writing your first draft on a sheet of paper or in a word processing program, then transcribe it onto the bag. Just keep in mind that it's approximately 500 words.
Can I add artwork to my bag?
Yes, within reason. What’s acceptable: A line drawing that supports your story/poem/essay; word art. What’s not acceptable: decoupage, stickers, origami, paper mache. No crafty nonsense. This is about writing.
Can I do a cartoon?
No. We may solicit those eventually, but for now, we’re focusing on word-centric pieces.
Can I transcribe something I already wrote onto the bag?
Yes, as long as it hasn’t been published elsewhere.
What kind of pen should I use?
Felt-tipped pens work well. Ultra fine point Sharpie permanent markers are also great. Black or blue ink only, please.
I really prefer to write in pencil.
That’s fine, but in order to ensure that your bag scans clearly, the letters need to be crisp and dark - pencil tends to smear easily. You can always type out your piece first, then transcribe it onto the bag with a black or blue ink felt-tipped pen or a permanent marker.
My handwriting is terrible. Can I have someone else handwrite it on the bag for me?
Yes, but it’s up to you to double-check their work and it still needs to be YOUR original work on the bag.
Will you transcribe my bag?
Will my bag be returned to me?
No. We recommend you keep a scan or copy of the bag for your files.
Getting Published on PBW
What will you do with my bag once you receive it?
We read your submission and determine whether or not it’s a good fit for our site. If we decide we’d like to publish it, we send an email to let you know it’s been approved for publication. If you want it to be published, we send you a contract for publication for your signature, along with an image file of your bag as it will appear on the site. We also request a 50-100 word bio, how you want to be attributed on the site, and any links to a website, blog, or other online resource where people can read your work.
Do you post every bag you receive?
During the beta phase, nearly all the bags we’ve received have appeared on the site. As we move into the first open submissions round, we reserve the right to select only those bags we feel best represent what Paper Bag Writers is about.
What’s the screening process for the featured writers?
Our screening process is pretty straightforward: Is the writing legible? Is it erotica or full of graphic violence? Is it heavier on art than on text? Is it an original work? Does the bag scan well? Did the writer provide a bio or other attribution when asked?
Will I get paid for being a featured writer on the site?
I got approved for publication on the site and received a contract for publication. Why do I need to sign and return the contract?
First of all, congratulations! The contract protects you and Paper Bag Writers in the event of plagiarism or copyright infringement, and it outlines your rights as the author of the work. Contracts for publication are standard in the publishing industry.
Troubleshooting and Other Issues
I sent in my bag and it was approved for publication, but it hasn’t been posted to the site yet.
We queue our posts for the site based on the order we receive the bags and when we receive the signed contract, bio, links and attribution information from the writer. To ensure your bag gets posted in a timely manner, make sure to respond to any emails from the editorial team requesting a bio or other information.
I have other questions.
Send us an email. Please be patient - we get a lot of messages, so it can take us several days to respond.