Tiny Lights comes out of Petaluma, California. It may have “tiny” in its title, and it may have only sixteen stapled pages between its newsprint covers, but “lights” are everywhere in its pages. This issue—which was published in the summer of 2011—contains the winning entries in the “standard” and “flashpoint” categories of its annual essay contest, plus submissions by readers to two regular “columns.” The whole issue can be read in an hour. And what a pleasant, rewarding hour it is. Susan Bono, the founder and editor of this tiny journal, loves personal essay and personal voice, and the magazine is a vehicle for this love.
The two regular columns are called “Searchlights and Signal Flares” and “Flash In the Pan,” confirming with their titular brightness that the magazine “will not consider essays that celebrate brutality or gratuitous violence,” but instead commits to publishing what ennobles human experience without sentimentality or skepticism. “Searchlights” is a writers’ exchange. Questions are posted online; readers write their responses in any form under 500 words. The question for this print issue was, “What themes do you keep returning to?” Ana Manwaring, a Petaluma resident who edits and teaches writing, returns home. Catherine Crawford returns to nature. Claudia Larson, who has lived near Petaluma for years, returns in her writing to the prairie farm and family of her childhood; Nancy Wallace-Nelson is obsessed by the passage of time.
A “Flash in the Pan,” according to the website, “may have first appeared on a napkin, in a journal, or as a dream. 500 words or less, they are impossible to explain or categorize and equally impossible to forget.” In this issue’s four “flash nonfiction” pieces are voices from Georgia as well as from Sonoma County, delightful first-person stories in which irony and serendipity hold hands.
The two “Honorable Mentions” for “Standard” essays are by Christine Watson who writes of a chilling scapegoating perpetrated upon her by her British Columbia school board—a first disclosure after years of silence—and Ed Miracle, a once-upon-a-time submarine sailor whose “Submarine Dreams” reveal an underwater world most of us would never imagine. These are edgy essays, neither saccharine nor predictable. They demonstrate how much can be accomplished, and how well, in 2000 words.
Equally excellent are the three winners in this category. Anna Belle Kaufman’s haunting “O, Engineer!” tells the story of a life, a death, and a generous gift. Tim Bascom’s utterly lovely “Floating” remembers a night when a “very unusual” father introduced his children to the sound of corn growing and the feel of flying. Adrienne Ross Scanlan’s muscular “Nisqually Fish Fling” shows a pregnant woman at risk of miscarriage daring to stand for the sake of renewed life. Of these, Kaufman has been published in The Sun and Calyx; Bascom has won the Bakeless Literary Prize; and Scanlan’s work has appeared in many well-known journals. The “Flash” prize winners, though shorter (under 1000 words), are equally striking. The point is that although this is a “tiny” publication, what appears here is large in scope and quality. Its accessibility and personal nature make it well worth your investigation.