Issue 21 Dedication: To Our Melissa
The past three years have been some of the most difficult communal grieving moments our world has seen. Death, one of Western culture’s silent, taboo topics, permeated every piece of the writer’s diet. For us at Sundog, it lingered closely and personally.
We could feel the stop-and-go livelihood in the way our submitters wrote, as they reckoned with cold realities that the safety and clarity writing exudes did its best to hold us together. Then Eric Rasmussen, our fiction editor, confirmed Melissa Wiley died on April 8.
Melissa brought an assured quietude, a burning passion, an eclectic free-spirit that inspired our collective. When she first began as Sundog’s Assistant Editor in 2015, Melissa was a cross-genre reader, copy editing every piece along with running our blog. When she became the Nonfiction Editor in 2020, a unanimous decision, her light continued. She became our sole editor and, in that experience, we were committed to showcasing both the excellence and community nonfiction required. Through quick Submittable comments, Twitter mentions and what-do-you-think? emails, she kept our team close. Melissa referred to us as “the perfect little team.” Hayli and I wholeheartedly agreed.
Melissa validated every inch of our trifecta; Hayli’s need for the nonfiction to wow yet soothe, my tastes for eye-grabbing prose and rhythm. The tight-knit braided essays, pieces with narration and research, the alphabetically arranged essays, were all extensions of the power and passion that Melissa carried into Sundog, a grounded intentionality that caresses us in her death.
“I think the indelible, lasting memory I’ll have of Melissa is the first night we met in-person. It was AWP D.C. in 2017, and Sundog Lit put together an offsite reading with Split Lip. I was a little late relative to the rest of the masthead in attendance, and I remember that, as I ascended the stairs to the bar’s event space, Melissa caught eye of me & was genuinely excited to see me in a way that felt so welcoming, instantly and thoroughly,” said Berry Grass, the assistant nonfiction editor before Hayli and I. “We had our rapport as editors of course, but feeling Melissa’s gentle, steady warmth in shared space was unforgettable. One of our readers that night, Zachary Doss (Issue Ten), is another writer who, like Melissa, passed away far far too soon. I’m so grateful that I have this vivid memory of easily and comfortably chatting with Zach and Melissa, and the rest of our contributors & editors & former editors who were there that night. I like to think that I saw Melissa that night at her best: vibrant and bright and surrounded by the literary community that she cared so much for.”
When we first knew of Melissa’s passing, Issue 21 had not been a death collection. But the way our nonfiction submissions captured relationships with death and grief, no matter its devastation, was a universal call and a recent dial-in for us at Sundog.
Moses Ojo’s artwork for Issue 21, makes it clear that Melissa’s spark and drive still stuck to our skin with bottomless, grief-deep blues with sparky yellows lit the way, just as she had done.
After recognizing the overall theme of reckoning with grief and death, the nonfiction team decided to not only curate a small collection of grieving nonfiction essays, but select Laura Stride’s “Gin Rummy” as the winning piece for a new award in Melissa’s honor, “The Wiley Award.”
Gin Rummy reads like a long, love-out-loud letter. Strides’ authentic narration leans on impeccable timing tying death and admiration together. The piece explores the what-ifs of both untouched and journeyed soul connections. We want to honor what Melissa brought to us before her abrupt departure, the same way we will mourn her loss.
We dedicate Issue 21 to Sundog’s Assistant Nonfiction Editor Melissa Wiley, for her passion, her great work with us, and the consistent excellence she always brought to our work and lives.
We did not get this done without you, Melissa.
-Amber D. Dodd