Several years ago, when I was in Tripoli to meet my Libyan-born husband’s family for the first time, his sister Fawziya plied me with questions about The Sun. Was it a fashion magazine? she asked — because that was the only kind she had ever seen. I shook my head; she furrowed her brow. Did I work for the government? It was a reasonable question. The only newspapers in Tripoli were state run. I shook my head again. Was it a religious pamphlet, like the ones left by the door at her local mosque? I shrugged helplessly. How could I possibly describe The Sun to someone who had never known freedom of expression, who had lived for so long under tyranny that she didn’t even feel comfortable speaking honestly about her life in the privacy of her own home? She only repeated the official story about life in Libya: that everything was fine, and she was content.
Here in the West no tyrant gets to dictate what stories are told. The market does. Most of the top-selling magazines in the United States tell what amounts to the “official” story about America: that we are beautiful and unique; that the right purchases can give our lives meaning; that our investments, workout regimens, and self-improvement schemes will protect us from heartache and loss. Less likely to see print is writing that honors our imperfection and chips away at the walls we’ve constructed between ourselves and others; that reminds us that what we value most is not for sale; that acknowledges the inevitable fact of suffering and the surprising ways it sometimes enriches us.
One reason The Sun can continue to print such writing is that, as one of the few independent, nonprofit, ad-free magazines in the country, we don’t answer to advertisers or corporate stakeholders. Advertising pursues us everywhere these days: in schools, on public radio, at the doctor’s office. But you won’t find ads in The Sun because we don’t want to lull readers to sleep with the American lullaby of “buy, buy, buy.” We publish this magazine to dispel illusions, not deepen them.
Without advertising, The Sun is totally supported by its readers. Perhaps my Libyan sister-in-law would have found this aspect of the magazine most foreign of all: it is a collaborative enterprise, kept alive for nearly forty years not only by those who produce the magazine, but also by those who read it. Your contributions have kept a roof over our heads while we work, put money into the pockets of struggling authors, brought The Sun to countless prisoners, and made it possible for us to survive a tough economy that has sunk far bigger publications. When you make a tax-deductible donation as a Friend of The Sun, you stand up for independent publishing, the power of the written word, and the value of authentic stories. Your support makes it possible for us to continue to publish writers who rise up against the tyrant in our own minds — the one who insists that certain truths are too dangerous to be spoken.
Now that she no longer lives under a dictator, Fawziya might not be surprised that an idealistic enterprise like The Sun could defy the odds by enduring for so long. The last time I spoke to her, over a crackling long-distance line, she was exuberant. She told me that since her country’s liberation, every single face she saw on Libyan streets was transformed: strangers who once looked guardedly down at the sidewalk now smiled broadly at one another and acknowledged their shared freedom. I think I understand what she meant: the world changes shape when we are able to look one another in the eye, communicate honestly, and recognize what we have in common. No other publication I know accomplishes this like The Sun. Please help keep this magazine alive.
P.S. You can donate online at www.thesunmagazine.org. You can also send your check to The Sun, 107 North Roberson Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516. Your donation is tax-deductible, and we’ll send a receipt for your records.