With a broken-down oven, in a hotel kitchen, on an uninhabited island
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One morning a tan, sinewy man in scruffy work clothes showed up at The Sun’s front door. His name was Nate. Pumping my hand vigorously, he told me how much he enjoyed the magazine. I invited him in for a cup of coffee.
It was 1980. The country was mired in a recession. Unable to afford a place of my own, I was living in the back of the Sun office. After six years of publication, the magazine still had fewer than one thousand subscribers, and there was never enough money to pay the bills. Nate, who ran a small landscaping company, was just scraping by himself. Though we came from different worlds — I was a displaced Yankee, a city boy; he was a Southerner who’d spent much of his life outdoors — we hit it off, and he began stopping by regularly to talk about the magazine, or politics, or God. Well-read and stubbornly opinionated, he kept me on my toes.
One day Nate asked me just how precarious The Sun’s financial situation was. More precarious than ever, I told him; the magazine could no longer afford even my subsistence wage. On his way out the door, he encouraged me not to give up. A few minutes later he was back. In a gruff voice he suggested I get off my ass, put on my boots, and join him at a job site — to do some real work for real pay.
For the next few months I spent my mornings digging holes, planting shrubs, and shoveling manure. Then I’d return to the office to work on the upcoming issue, bone weary but with a few dollars in my pocket. Though Nate didn’t acknowledge it at the time, I knew the job was an act of generosity. I was never as adept with a shovel as I was with my old Underwood typewriter; Nate probably could have dug twice as many holes in half the time. But putting a shovel in my hand was his way of helping The Sun survive.
Nate has been on my mind lately because once again, during a severe recession, I’m worried about The Sun’s financial situation. In the past year we’ve lost thousands of readers, many of whom have written to say they can’t afford to renew their subscriptions. As a consequence I’ve had to freeze staff salaries and reduce payments to writers and photographers. More cuts lie ahead.
I believe The Sun will survive this latest crisis, not because I’m brimming with confidence about the economy, but because I know that the fate of The Sun ultimately rests in its readers’ hands, not mine, and thirty-five years of experience has taught me to trust in the generosity of those readers. Countless people like Nate have given of themselves to keep The Sun alive: an enthusiastic volunteer showing up at the right time; a printer kindly extending credit to us when we couldn’t pay our bill; a reader sending in a donation just when we needed it the most. In a society that glorifies rugged individualism and the reckless pursuit of profit, this ad-free, nonprofit journal has always been a collaborative endeavor. It continues to exist because our readers understand that my colleagues and I aren’t working hard every day in order to sell the products of advertisers, or to enhance the profits of a publishing conglomerate, or to advance the aims of a particular religious or political group. We’re working for you.
If you can afford it, please support The Sun during this critical time. Your tax-deductible donation, as a Friend Of The Sun, will help ensure that we don’t become another casualty of the recession. How regrettable it would be if the magazine that arrives in your mailbox each month were diminished in any way. I don’t want to lose writers and photographers because we can’t pay them what they deserve. I don’t want to lay off any staff members whose steady efforts make each issue as good as it can be. I don’t want to reduce the number of pages in the magazine. You get the idea.
Over the years I’ve lost touch with Nate, but I imagine he’s still going out of his way to help someone in need — a friend, a stranger, a young man trying to nurture an idealistic dream. Nate knew, of course, that publishing The Sun was real work, too. As I write this letter, a towering stack of essays, stories, interviews, and poems awaits me on my desk. For thirty-five years I’ve been digging through piles of paper like this, digging into the rich loam of human experience for the living roots that connect us. No longer a young man, I’m still bent to the task. I dig because too many publishers put advertising first and editorial excellence second. I dig because if we worship money, we end up impoverished no matter what our net worth. I dig because dedicated colleagues dig beside me and because all around the country impassioned writers and photographers are digging, too. I dig because, even working alone at my desk, I feel connected with our readers. Without those readers, The Sun wouldn’t exist. Without The Sun, there would be one less reminder during a troubled time that we’re all in this together.
Editor and publisher
P.S.: You can send your check to The Sun, 107 North Roberson Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516. You can also donate online at www.thesunmagazine.org. Your donation is tax-deductible, and we’ll send a receipt for your records.
If you’re a subscriber, you may already have seen this letter in your mailbox. We publish it in the magazine for the benefit of our newsstand readers.
I have been moved by your magazine from the moment I discovered it in our local bookstore, so my heart skipped a beat when I read of your financial troubles [“Friend of The Sun,” November 2009]. That I felt real fear at the possible loss of this magazine proves you have created something much more than a few bound pages.
As a single working mom, I’m unfortunately in no position to send you a donation. What I will do is share The Sun with as many people as I can, whether it’s as a gift, an e-mail message to friends, or a link on my Facebook page. I hope I can add to this community that you have so diligently tended and nurtured over the years.