A Brief History

One day in the early seventies, a young man with a hunger for truth and a love of good writing quit his job as a New York City newspaper reporter. He was tired of churning out routine news articles. It seemed to him that some of the most important stories never made the headlines: stories that challenged the status quo; that explored the messy and heroic lives of real people; that touched the mystery of our humanity.

In 1974, as the war in Vietnam was winding down and President Richard Nixon was embroiled in the Watergate scandal, Sy Safransky typed up the first issue of The Sun in a friend's garage in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he was living at the time. He wanted to start a magazine that would present courageous, honest writing and respect readers in a fundamental way. To print that issue, he had to borrow fifty dollars. Then he stood on the street with a stack of stapled pages under his arm, trying to convince passersby to pay 25 cents per magazine. He ended up giving most of them away.

He had no savings, no business plan, no staff — just a conviction that if he worked hard and stayed true to his ideals, The Sun would survive. During those early years, when he carried his "office" in his backpack and kept the names of subscribers on index cards in his pocket, he learned that committing himself to something he believed in gave him the strength to get up early, stay up late, and do what he could never do just for the money. And though The Sun nearly went bankrupt many times, it never did.

For the first few years, The Sun barely resembled its current incarnation. To begin with, it was titled The Chapel Hill Sun, and its focus was this small southern college town. As the magazine grew, the title became simply The Sun. Year after year, thanks to support from an increasing number of loyal readers all around the country, The Sun continued to grow.

In 1990, Sy decided to stop selling ads. According to conventional wisdom, it was a move that would spell suicide for an independent magazine. But Sy wanted the magazine to be like an intimate conversation between reader and writer, and he didn't want that conversation to be interrupted by a sales pitch. He wanted the magazine to value truth more than profit, and so he decided to take a chance. His gamble worked: in a world where advertising pursues us everywhere, The Sun remains a rare ad-free sanctuary and has grown to more than 70,000 subscribers.

The real history of The Sun can be found in its contents. Browse our complete back-issues list to see what burning questions our contributors have asked over the years. Or pick up a book from The Sun library: our three Best Of The Sun anthologies; our Sunbeams collections; and Sy's essay collection Four In The Morning all offer a scenic tour through part of the magazine's history.

Some things haven't changed since the days when The Sun began: corruption and violence still dominate the news. It's still hard to find honest, courageous writing in the mainstream media. And a hunger for truth and a love of great writing still animate each issue of The Sun.