In the midst of domestic and worldwide unrest, sometimes you just need to take 10 minutes to read for pleasure. Rudri Bhatt Patel and Beth Burrell, co-founders and editors of The Sunlight Press, want to provide material for literary leisure time. “Whether you read a short story or an essay or you want some tips on the craft of writing, our magazine is a welcome balm in this news-driven world,” Patel says. “Plus, it’s a great way to support writers.”
The Sunlight Press is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, digital literary journal in search of both new and established voices. Editors seek essays, book reviews, poetry, flash and short fiction, and reflections on craft – whether that craft is writing, art, dancing, or working as a professional juggler.
“You don’t necessarily have to be a writer to submit something,” Patel says. “We had a circus performer share how she explores her performing and being a trapeze artist. We look for edgy craft essays about any of the performing arts.”
Tone, editorial content of The Sunlight Press
Editors at The Sunlight Press look for poetry submissions that show command of language, meter, and prose. Burrell points to Kara Bachman’s “Mister Lonely” (4/10/18) and Tammy Takahashi’s “Heart of Light” (1/14/20) as examples of the poetry she likes to publish. “Both poems are particularly moving, offering starkly different perspectives on a relationship,” she says. “‘Mister Lonely’ is graphic and dark, while ‘Heart of Light’ begins melancholy but winds its way to hope.”
When evaluating personal essays, Burrell and Patel look for submissions that focus on the writer’s personal story but also speak to a universal theme. For short fiction, they’re interested in exciting language, a sense of conflict, and narrative arc.
“A lot of the fiction submissions we get are great in terms of prose, but they don’t really say anything,” Patel says. “We’ve had a couple of stories we were on the fence about. They’ve had great language and compelling characters, but we ultimately passed because there really wasn’t a story – they were more just an homage to great writing.”
Crafting publishable flash fiction is particular tricky, she says. “Especially in flash, you have to say what you want to say quickly under 1,000 words. A good flash fiction piece opens with a conflict, has a compelling character that you care about, and includes an ending that is open to the reader’s interpretation. It’s basically taking some kind of small moment and letting it explode on the page and having it mean something,” she concludes.
Lee Nash has published several poems in the magazine. “She takes everyday subjects and offers a fresh take on them,” Patel says. “Our poetry editor found her work witty and amusing, simple on the surface but conveying a bigger truth.”
On 6/6/17, The Sunlight Press published Nash’s poem “You Too Must Eat of the Honeycomb,” about a cashier reflecting on a customer at the check-out line who is breast-feeding her two-year-old son. She writes:
“All the while
she is leaking, giving,
and I want to reach over,
break another convention,
gently prise them apart, say,
It’s time. You’ve done enough.”
Jacqueline Doyle’s essay “Dear Maddy” (6/16/19) commanded editors’ attention with this opening paragraph: “Most letters ask for a reply. Not a suicide note.” Doyle tells her story in numbered sections that offer reflection on the suicide of the writer’s 47-year-old aunt, weaving in insights about art and mental illness.
“She writes about the themes of suicide and loss in a way that feels unique and deeply revealing about the stages of grief,” Patel says. “There is such an economy of words, but it doesn’t take away from the power of her sentiment. The way she wrote it is stunning.”
She also admires Cathy Ulrich’s short story “A Bouquet of Stars” (11/25/18), which explores the relationship between an astronaut and her wife. “The language is palpable and immediately conjures up all these different images,” Patel says. “Ulrich artfully explores this astronaut’s relationship with her wife, showing the pain of going on missions. She captures the topic in a way I’ve never quite seen before. It’s the kind of flash that teaches readers something new.”
Advice for potential contributors
Editors aren’t interested in political submissions, erotica, or heavily religious stories and essays. “We look for traditional and experimental prose that takes us by surprise or ends ambiguously. We appreciate writers who submit finished work that is well worked over, every word counting,” Burrell says.
She and Patel love publishing work by emerging writers, “especially if their writing is a fresh take on a topic or examines a new theme,” Patel explains. “We’re hoping The Sunlight Press is a stepping stone in a new writer’s trajectory.”
The Sunlight Press at a glance
“We want to hear the ways people turn toward light and hope, whether it is through the arts, culture, spirituality, or humor, and also how they respond to the darkness and navigate unknown spaces.”
Length: 750-2,000 words.
Genres: Fiction, personal essays, poetry, book reviews.
Submission format: Email with genre in subject line.
—Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). Twitter/Instagram: @WildMelissaHart.