This month marks The Sun’s twenty—fifth anniversary. As the deadline for the January issue approached—and passed—we were still debating how to commemorate the occasion in print. We didn’t want to waste space on self-congratulation, but we also didn’t think we should let the moment pass unnoticed. At the eleventh hour, we came up with an idea: we would invite longtime contributors to send us their thoughts, recollections, and anecdotes about The Sun. Maybe we would get enough fill a few pages.
What we got was enough to fill the entire magazine.
Though we haven’t devoted the whole issue to the anniversary, we have allowed the section to grow beyond our original plans. After seeing the pieces, we felt that our readers would enjoy them as much as we did—for the information about the magazine’s history, for the glimpses into the writers’ lives, and (not least) for the quality of writing. …
Petersburg, West Virginia
First published January 1983
In 1982, I received a letter from Sy saying that he wanted to print an excerpt from my book, The Choice of Emptiness, in The Sun. I was thirty-five years old and living in a log cabin with an outhouse and a wood-burning stove. I was washing my dishes in the creek. It was winter.
Well, I’ll be, I thought, standing by my snow-peaked mailbox, my hands full of frost-stiffened bills and junk mail. At long last, a real publication. I say “real” because my book was self-published, a collection of essays that had first appeared in a local newspaper. Somehow, Sy had ended up with a copy.
The Sun was only eight years old then, still printed on rough paper, but I couldn’t have been happier. I had been writing almost every day since my early twenties and was sometimes embarrassed by how little I had to show for it. I was even more delighted when my complimentary copies arrived and I discovered my words shared an issue with those of Ram Dass.
Recently, I was asked to speak at a writers’ conference on how to get published. The participants were looking for tips on how to catch an editor’s eye, how to get off the “slush piles”—the huge stacks of unsolicited manuscripts that crowd editorial offices everywhere. I told them that, instead of waiting to be found, they might do well to get published in their hometowns, let their career build bit by bit, even publish themselves, if need be, as Whitman and Thoreau did (as Sy did when he started The Sun, for that matter). I suggested that if they worked their way up from the ground floor—or even the cellar—focusing on content rather than lucky breaks, the odds were good that the right editor would find them one day, just when they were least expecting it.
That was my experience, anyway.