The Sun was rebuked last year by the National Endowment for the Arts. In turning down our application for a grant, the NEA panel said the writing in The Sun was “too confessional, too therapeutic.” The Readers Write section, it said, seemed especially out of place; writing like that “isn’t really literature.”
At first, I felt a twinge of embarrassment, as if I’d shown up in jeans and a T-shirt for a black-tie affair. I had to admit that, unlike the NEA panelists, I’ve never been able to say what is or isn’t literature. I’m all for truth-in-labeling when it comes to food — I believe that if you can’t pronounce something it’s probably bad for you — but labeling ideas and feelings is no public service. Sometimes literature arrives wild-eyed, in an old jalopy that wheezes and gasps up the hill. Sometimes it waits quietly at the end of a story you almost didn’t finish, coiled inside the mystery of language, nodding at your tears.
Undaunted, we applied to the NEA again this year: same jeans, same T-shirt. But the panelists were different — and so was their definition of literature. We’ve just been awarded a grant.
The money will be used to pay our writers more, and they deserve it. We’re very grateful. Yet we’re thankful, too, that The Sun doesn’t depend on the NEA to survive. The awards process is by nature arbitrary and unpredictable — which is why I’ve never wanted The Sun to rely on grants (or corporate donations, or the whims of advertisers). Our readers determine whether the magazine deserves to continue, whether the writing has the ring of lived truth, whether it’s sufficiently literary.
When I started The Sun in 1974 with fifty dollars, I didn’t imagine it would grow into a national magazine with more than twenty-five thousand subscribers. In fact, I used to believe that it was a more admirable publication because we were always broke. I imagined that the stack of unpaid bills meant we were doing something right; that our heroic struggle attested to our integrity. But as The Sun’s readership has grown, I’ve discovered that increasing salaries and paying the bills on time hasn’t compromised our independence; that, as an editor, I’m no less willing to challenge our readers, or myself. How wonderful that a magazine like The Sun can not only survive but flourish, encouraging good writing while inviting all who write to find their own voices.
Still, in the face of increasing postal costs, rising paper prices, and a political climate not conducive to arts funding, we don’t take our modest success for granted. Once again this year, we invite your support. As a Friend Of The Sun, your tax-deductible donation will keep the magazine free of advertising. It will make it easier for us to hold on to experienced staff. (Most nonprofit organizations suffer from high turnover due to low salaries.) Because The Sun has such a devoted crew, I can occasionally leave the office on a Friday afternoon and not do a stitch of work until Monday. (After twenty-one years, that’s progress.)
Without needing to fret about money, we can focus on improving the magazine, on making each issue more artful, perhaps more truthful. We’ll let our readers decide if it’s literature.
Editor, The Sun
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