Diversity, environment, High Country News, history, Literature, news, Staying Relevant, Sy Safransky, The Sun Magazine, the west, Tom Bell
I’m that linear person who reads publications cover to cover. It’s a slow process, therefore I subscribe to only two monthlies: The Sun Magazine, and High Country News. The first nurtures my soul and inspires me to think deeply. The second informs me about the land I live on, the peoples, plants, and animals with whom I share this magnificent land, and the intricate interrelationships between us all.
Both publications sprang from humble beginnings. The Sun, an entirely ad-free literary journal, first hit street corners in 1974 with editor Sy Safransky barely able to drum up the courage to charge 25₵ for his manually typed, Xeroxed copies. The magazine survives today with well over 60,000 subscriptions and a stalwart eye for thoughtful interviews, poetry, short fiction, provocative black and white photography, and the beloved “Readers Write.” The editorial board deploys unmatched sensitivity. Even a letter to the editor doesn’t get published without author approval of editorial revisions.
High Country News (HCN) began in 1969 when WWII veteran, Tom Bell, published Camping News Weekly out of Lander, Wyoming. Initially geared toward anglers and hunters, Bell was driven to expand into environmental issues that he saw as a threat to the West he so loved. The early years were tough, and the magazine, later dubbed High Country News, struggled to make ends meet. By 1983, Bell was tired and overwhelmed with the task of keeping the paper going. Transplanted New Yorkers, Ed and Besty Martson, took the helm and moved the paper to Paonia, Colorado, where it flourished.
HCN has evolved rapidly during the past decade. Once, a mostly black and white, semi-monthly, printed on newsprint, it has blossomed into a glossy monthly with color photography and stunning original art. But more importantly, beyond the outer beauty, this publication has expanded its scope and reportage by mining once-unheard voices from the west. In the past year, the business office has decentralized from Paonia, Colorado, utilizing digital tools that make instant communication and document collaboration possible across vast distances.
Administrative, editorial, and reporting work is spread out from coast to coast. Dedicated reporters and content creators are young, fierce, and eager to dig into the cultural and socio-economic aspects of the western political landscape.
Some readers have not appreciated the changes. I freely admit that some of the stories push my buttons, challenge my assumptions, and simply don’t interest me. I don’t like graphic novels or content. I was never a comic strip reader, and that style just doesn’t work for me. But how many young readers might be attracted to a graphic news story? And I confess that every now and then I catch my eyes rolling at the asomatous musings of a 20 or 30-something trans writer. But THOSE are my teachable moments! When my eyes are rolling, my judgement is impaired. I come at text from my highly privileged white background. These voices deserve to be heard as much as my voice does. And that it has taken this long for them to emerge is only proof of how narrow the playing field has been until recently.
Just look at those bright young faces in the Featured Contributors column. They span myriad shades, ethnicities, and gender personas. And each of them is talented beyond belief. My mission is to keep learning. And these two publications help me on the journey.