“Sky Islands” are mountains rising up out of the Southwestern desert, rich with ecological diversity. They’re also the inspiration for the journal that co-founders and co-editors Jason Splichal and Jeff Sommerfeld launched in New Mexico four years ago, giving 80,000 readers in 145 countries free access to high-quality literature.
Splichal and Sommerfeld look for submissions from emerging and established readers alike from urban and rural areas all over the world. “Our readers and our contributors are diverse, and, like us, they have eclectic tastes,” they explain in a joint response. “Sky Island Journal’s mission is to provide readers with a powerful, focused, advertising-free literary experience that transports them: one that challenges them intellectually and moves them emotionally.”
Those who submit their work to literary magazines know that they may not hear back from an editor for months because of time and budget constraints. However, the average response time for writers submitting to Sky Island Journal is nine days. The editors read blind – no cover letter and no bio allowed. As they note on their website, “This guideline creates a refreshing challenge for well-established professionals who have been favored by literary journals in the past because of their credentials, while simultaneously encouraging emerging voices; writers, young and old, who would normally be rejected out-of-hand by many literary journals because of their lack of pedigree.”
Tone, editorial content
Nothing is off limits in terms of content and style, Splichal and Sommerfeld explain, as long as submissions fall under the genres of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction. “We’re not interested in making any writer’s art conform to some preconceived aesthetic of ours, and we’re neither presumptuous enough, nor pretentious enough, to proclaim what ‘won’t fit’ before we even try it on,” they note.
In Issue 16, they published Chicago writer and podcast host E.B. Cotenord’s creative nonfiction piece, “The Transaction,” which continues to resonate with readers for its candid first-person insights into sex work. “We’d been waiting for someone to speak directly, intelligently, and articulately about mainstream society’s complicated relationship with sex work, and E.B. did,” the editors explain. “We’d never published anything similar to it before.”
In the piece, Cotenord writes:
My job is selling access to my body. Your job is reaching into your mind and producing new content and giving it to your boss, your company, your investors, your clients, your customers. You sell them your thoughts. You sell them your ideas. You sell them your mind.
The essay inspired a great deal of positive feedback from readers. “The pandemic has dramatically changed America’s relationship with three things: sex, the economy, and our sense of self,” the editors note. “The way in which many Americans refuse to publicly discuss how these changes have privately impacted their individual lives and our collective identity – not to mention how we now assign value to things once considered beyond valuation – is something our readers truly deserve to explore.”
Chad V. Broughman and Michael Pikna have published flash fiction in the journal. Tim Raphael, Gary Lark, and Julie Weiss have published poetry here. You’ll also find flash fiction by Daniel Acosta Jr., Kaitlin Kan, and Deepa Paul. Splichal and Sommerfeld are eager to share a flash fiction piece titled “Tank” in Issue 17. It’s a collaboration between Rollins College students Hannah Butcher and Kendall Clarke and their professor, Dr. Matthew Forsythe. The editors describe it as “an intense, reality-bending journey through landscape and memory whose circular structure reveals deeper truths about what makes us human.”
Mehak Goyal from Chandigarh, India, has a poem titled “Leaf of an Evergreen Tree” in the same issue. Splichal and Sommerfeld describe it as “a journey through landscape and memory that reveals truths about who we are as human beings – under the skin. It does so in gorgeous and unexpected ways.” The editors are proud of their continued growth – in both readership and contributors – on the Indian Subcontinent. Goyal’s poem, they explain, helps them to carry out this unique part of their mission to make quality literature available to all readers internationally.
Advice for potential contributors
Potential contributors to Sky Island Journal should read the submission guidelines carefully, explore recent issues on the publication’s website, and submit their most polished work. Save the cover letter and bio for a different publication; editors only want to see the creative submission itself and will delete any manuscript that includes identifying information.
Writers may send up to five poems in a single document, or two or three pieces of flash fiction or nonfiction up to 1,000 words submitted as a single document, through Submittable.
Splichal and Sommerfeld regularly receive diverse poetry and creative nonfiction. “When it comes to flash fiction, however, we’re always hoping to see more speculative fiction submissions: sci-fi, fantasy, and horror,” they say. “Our next issue is always pushing the boundaries of our last.”
Melissa Hart is the author, most recently, of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). Instagram: @writermelissahart
Sky Island Journal at a glance
“An independent, international, free-access literary journal.”
Reading period: See website for deadlines.
Length: Prose to 1,000 words.
Genres: Fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction.
Submission format: Submittable, via the publication’s website.