Reach for the Sky

EC natives formulate revolutionary online lit journal

Hannah Mumm

FRIENDLY WORDS. The co-editors of online literary journal Sky Island Jason Splichal and Jeff Sommerfield.
FRIENDLY WORDS. The co-editors of online literary journal Sky Island Jason Splichal and Jeff Sommerfield.

In the advent of the iPhone, Amazon, and Netflix, information and commerce have become instantly accessible. Patience is at an all-time low. We expect a response minutes after we send a text. We buy everything from spices to appliances online, leaving scathing reviews for any product that isn’t on our doorstep in a week. That new show on Netflix? We want to binge watch it. Now. No commercials.

Traditional literary journals are dying in today’s impatient world. Both print and online publications force writers to endure submission processes that last anywhere from a couple of months to nearly a year. Readers must either pay for hard copies and digital access or tolerate a barrage of ads to read free journal online.

Enter Sky Island. Brainchild of Eau Claire English teacher and author Jason Splichal and professional writer Jeff Sommerfeld, the new publication is a revolutionary in the midst of arduous academic literary journals.

“We had been frustrated for many years by the inaccessibility, stuffiness, and sloth-like responsiveness of many literary journals. We knew there had to be a better way forward.”

“We had been frustrated for many years by the inaccessibility, stuffiness, and sloth-like responsiveness of many literary journals,” said Splichal and Sommerfeld in a joint interview. “We knew there had to be a better way forward.”

So, the two men met up in the sky island region of New Mexico, and in just a few days conceptualized, created, and began to implement a publication for the modern literary consumer. What emerged is a free-access journal, exclusively online and 100% ad-free. Just months after its conception, Sky Island was listed internationally on popular literary sites  with a name inspired by its birthplace.

“We let the ecological diversity of the mountains that towered over the desert valley, the rich cultures of that borderland, and the intense spiritual power of that remote place, be our muses as we created,” said Sommerfeld.

The journal focuses on diversity, geographically and culturally as an international journal, and substantively with its all-inclusive format. Its submission guidelines are exceptional. Writers are not permitted to send a word of personal information with their work. Without identification, their writing can be judged on content quality rather than PhDs and MFAs, academic status symbols that Splichal and Sommerfeld cite as unspoken barriers for publication in many literary journals.

Influenced by the arid topography of the Arizona and New Mexico and its founders’ Wisconsin roots, Sky Island’s aesthetic is notably Southwest, its industriousness unmistakably Midwest. Issues are slotted to be released seasonally, and submissions are always open. The editors read constantly, and writers can expect to receive a response just one week after submitting – pretty impressive considering Splichal and Sommerfeld make up the entire editorial team.

The founders’ Midwest work ethic is the crucial factor in Sky Island’s success, and can be traced back to their childhoods. Splichal grew up in Wisconsin and upper Michigan, and Sommerfeld was born and raised in Chippewa Falls.

“I spent many hours of my teenage and young adult life exploring remote trails in Irvine Park and on the campus of Saint John’s University, concurrently exploring the depths of my mind and heart as I put my silent reflections down on paper,” said Sommerfeld on the influence of the Midwest on his authorial development. 

They trained as young writers at colleges in Wisconsin and Minnesota, including UW-Eau Claire, and made their mark on the surrounding areas as professional writers and educators. Combining their diverse skill sets, they run the journal – from advertising to web design – without any additional staff, from their homes, in addition to full-time jobs and family life.

All of this to deliver top-quality flash fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry to an international audience – every three months – on a clean digital platform accessible to all.

“We believe that we are the tip of the spear in a revolutionary surge,” said Sommerfeld. “A long-overdue renaissance of literary journals that seek to put the experience of readers first, while offering greater access and inclusivity to top-notch writers of all stripes”

To learn more or submit your words, head to www.skyislandjournal.com

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