Fifty years. That’s about how long it takes a single acorn that’s found purchase in favorable soil to grow into an oak that’s nearly six stories high — its trunk too wide to wrap your arms around, its shade enough for a whole cheerleading squad. It’s the time it took humanity to go from piloting the first aircraft to breaking the sound barrier. It’s the average lifespan of an Asian elephant, an orangutan, a bald eagle, and an American in 1905. And it’s how long it’s taken The Sun to transform from a hand-stapled, xeroxed journal, sold for twenty-five cents on the streets of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, into the forty-eight pages you now hold in your hand: a steady growth charted across 565 issues.
As publisher of The Sun, I’m sometimes asked how this reader-supported magazine has not only survived those five decades but in fact flourished. After all, some very good magazines with very good budgets have shuttered in that time, casualties of complacency or shifting tastes or nothing more than plain bad luck. And the answer is so simple, I suspect the people I give it to think maybe I’m withholding something: The Sun has, in the words of our founder and editor Sy Safransky, endeavored to “look at a sad, confused world and see it as holy.” Do that for fifty years, month after month, year after year, and it’s no wonder people want to keep reading.
The Sun has, in the words of our founder and editor Sy Safransky, endeavored to “look at a sad, confused world and see it as holy.”
Starting with this issue, you’ll find a few nods to that history. We’re reprinting an essay from beloved Sun regular Brian Doyle, who died in 2017. We’re re-visiting “Anniversaries,” a Readers Write topic we already covered in 1999, and reprinting some of the original responses. And in A Thousand Words we’re sharing a memorable photo from our archive. We’ll continue looking backward this way throughout 2023.
This is a time to commemorate our past, but also, more important, to recommit ourselves to The Sun’s guiding principles as we look toward the future. Throughout our history we’ve grappled with intense philosophical and spiritual topics, broached uncomfortable truths about our nation’s past, lamented the degradation of our natural world, and explored the full range of the human experience. We want, more than anything, to continue down this path, and to be surprised and delighted by where it takes us.
Here’s an understatement for you: to have had Sy Safransky’s steady hand on the wheel these past five decades has been essential to The Sun’s success. But there’s only so long he can guide us, one eye on the map and the other on the road ahead. Come this December, Sy will move to the role of editor emeritus, and I will take over as editor and publisher. These are impossible shoes — or, in his case, socks and sandals — to fill. To describe all he’s done for his magazine would take this whole issue, and most of next month’s, too, so I won’t attempt it here. And, anyway, he’ll have a chance to tell you himself in December, when we’ll reprint some of his most important work and acknowledge the staggering contribution he’s made to The Sun through not just his editorial vision and tireless perfectionism and look-you-right-in-the-eye writing, but also the thrift-store years he spent sleeping in a garage and digging ditches to keep this magazine alive.
Though Sy’s work birthed and shaped The Sun, the magazine is and always has been a collaborative effort. It would never have gotten out of the garage without the many people who’ve been on its staff, the writers and photographers whose work we’ve been privileged to print, the readers and benefactors whose support make the impossible a reality each month, the mail carriers and printers and newsstand workers who help get it into readers’ hands, and of course anyone who’s chosen to read the magazine over the years: on a subway, at a bookstore, in a prison cell, under the shade of a tree. It’s not just an anniversary we’re celebrating this year, but this collective dream that all of you share with us.
I’m grateful you’re a part of it, and I hope you will be for many more years to come.
Publisher, The Sun