It’s time for us to do more.
We need more of you to help us do it.
This week, The Bitter Southerner introduces three new streams of stories for you, welcomes some good Southern businesses as sponsors and asks you, once again, to support a publication that celebrates the genuine South.
Before we asked you to join us last year, we spent a year actually showing you the value of what you were supporting. This time, we’re going to show you in a single week what More Bitter looks like. We want you to know what you’re getting for your money.
The Bitter Southerner has lived through almost 100 weeks with a single output: one great story a week about the South, the place we love despite its scars. But we learned pretty quickly that The Bitter Southerner had great potential in other media, three in particular: video, podcasts and perhaps a few stories shorter than our standard 3,000-10,000 words.
So we’re taking a leap. We aim to make this thing more bitter — and more better.
Don’t worry: We’re not going to do the typical website thing and turn a firehose of content on you. We know you appreciate the fact we don’t assault you with a story every 57 seconds. But we also know that you might enjoy the chance to get a little bitterness without using up your whole lunch hour. So we are going to give you a few more good Southern stories to keep you entertained and to keep us all thinking and talking.
And by soon, we mean … tomorrow.
Here is a quick walk through the three new regular sections we’re adding to The Bitter Southerner this week.
Moving Stories From the American South
It kind of bugs us that people don’t use the term “Southern filmmaking” with the same reverence they use when they utter the phrase “Southern literature.” We’re not exactly sure how to fix that imbalance, but we do know we have seen an amazing amount of great work from Southern filmmakers in the last couple of years. Way more than we ever dreamed was out there.
So tomorrow, The Bitter Southerner will introduce a video section. We’ll kick it off with a 10-minute documentary about one of the most amazing places we’ve ever been in the entire South — a place that occupies only about 400 square feet. But in that tiny space live the ghosts of a very special time in history, in one of the urban South’s most significant neighborhoods.
We’ll also use the section to showcase video by other great Southern producers, including the decade’s worth of work by our fast friends at the University of Mississippi’s Southern Foodways Alliance and Southern Documentary Project. In the next few weeks, we’ll begin with a nice little selection of the SFA’s films about the most important issue in the South: barbecue.
The point of adding this section is simple: We couldn’t find a place where it was easy to watch a well-chosen selection of Southern films. So we built it. You can call it the BS Bijou or whatever you want, but starting tomorrow, you can go there and catch a flick. For free, 24/7.
We’ve been working up partnerships with Southern filmmakers since the start of this year, and we’ve got some good things cooking. If you make films about the South, and you think your work would be appreciated by The Bitter Southerner’s audience, hit us up here. We’d like to hear from you.
Oh, and by the way, podcasts are coming later this year. If you’re an audio producer with a good idea, we’d like to hear from you, too. This is the place to get in touch.
The Bitter Southerner Folklore Project
After we started The Bitter Southerner we began to receive story submissions — from professional and aspiring writers, of course, but also just from folks. It was as if we had put up a sign that said, “Send Us Your Family Stories.”
We’ve been collecting some of the best of those family stories, and we’re going to begin collecting artifacts to go with them. We might ask you to send us pictures of your tomato crop or your grandmother. The goal, over time, is to use this section to assemble a big collection of Southern stories and artifacts. Many little bits of string that, woven together, will tell a bigger story about what Southerners are really like in the 21st century. What this will turn into is anybody’s guess, but it’ll for sure be an adventure.
But from the beginning this Thursday, you’ll find funny pieces, like the one from our friend who faced a difficult question: how to handle it when his daughter decided to take a job as a “shot girl” in a bar. You’ll also find deeply moving stories, like the one from an old friend of mine, a Chicagoan, who married into a Georgia family then lost her husband at a young age to a rare disease — and how the pines and rivers of Georgia helped her put things back in place.
We hope you’ll be interested in contributing. If you have a family story or a collection of artifacts, hit us up here.
The Bitter Southerner Sunday Sessions
Kris Kristofferson was right. There is something in a Sunday.
You want a good cup of coffee and a little quiet time, with maybe a little story to keep you entertained. Starting this Sunday, we’ll bring you a story every week, something nice and short to go with your Sunday breakfast or for halftime of whatever game you’re watching.
We’ll take you with us to visit interesting places and people around the South. We’ll also use this section to do a little “crowdsourced” collecting for the Folklore Project. From time to time, we’ll ask you for things — perhaps your mama’s pickle recipe or the first record you ever bought or just whatever crosses our mind. Then we’ll gather them all up and put them in The Bitter Southerner Folklore Project and make that ball of string a little bigger.
The essential value of any company engaged in the storytelling business is this: Readers who find value in a particular publication’s stories pay for the privilege of reading them, either by subscribing or buying a copy off the newsstand. The rules of these exchanges historically were quite clear: You don’t get to read the stories unless you pay.
Our approach is different. We give you our stories — and the ability to share them — without worrying with one of those infernal, annoying “paywalls” that come with “subscriptions” to digital publications. We’d rather you be able to spread the word freely.
In return for that, we ask you once a year to decide if you think our storytelling is worth a particular sum of your money: either $25, $50, $100 or $1,000. If you like the stories we tell well enough to pay us for them, just pick the sum that suits you.
You get the 2015-2016 Card-Carrying Bitter Southerner card, which entitles you to great deals at Bitter Southerner Family Establishments (more about them later). You’ll also get the bumper stickers you need to display your bitterness and start conversations.
You get all of the above and the 2015-16 family membership T-shirt, a throwback to the very first T-shirt we ever sold. But only 100 of you scored one of those, so we’re spreading the love this year.
You get all of the above and a limited edition giclee print of the latest “word painting” — which tips its hat to the BS — by a Chattanooga boy named Wayne White. If you don’t know Wayne’s work as a highly acclaimed painter, you will surely remember his puppets, set designs and characters for the immortal “Pee Wee’s Playhouse.” And this Friday, we’ll take you on a little visit to Wayne’s studio in Los Angeles.
~ Limited to 100 ~
On Nov. 7, we’re going to throw the first Bitter Southerner Family Reunion — a full-day affair, a party with some learning thrown in. Joining at this level gets you two tickets. The event will include an arrival-night dinner Nov. 6 at a special place in Atlanta, with Southern food and drink that will make you swoon. And of course, since this is the BS, there will be cocktails. Good ones. The next day will be the Family Reunion proper, and we’ll spend the day discussing our region’s culture with some great Southern writers, artists, food folks and musicians. And the night will end with a special musical appearance. Every $1,000 member will get two tickets, plus two of everything in all the other packages.
Jack Rudy Cocktail Company, Charleston
Revelator Coffee Company: Birmingham and Chattanooga and, coming soon, New Orleans, Atlanta and Nashville. Also coming soon: beans available online.
Farms and Food
White Oak Pastures, Bluffton, Ga.
Andover Trask, Atlanta
Atlanta History Center, Atlanta
Move Loot, Atlanta
Empire State South, Atlanta
Five & Ten, Athens
The Florence, Savannah
H. Harper Station, Atlanta
Highlands Bar & Grill, Birmingham
The Local Taco: Nashville, East Nashville and Brentwood, Tenn.; and Greenville, S.C.
The National, Athens
At the beginning of this year, a couple of us turned our full-time attention to The Bitter Southerner, and we began exploring — from every possible angle — what we needed to do to make it grow and thrive. We learned The Bitter Southerner needs a couple of revenue streams in addition to your memberships and the revenue from our General Store. Events and sponsorships can help ensure the future of The Bitter Southerner.
Sponsorships deserve a few words for the sake of clarity. In a perfect world, we could do our stories and videos and events with reader support alone. Alas, the world is not perfect. So we asked ourselves, how can we bring on sponsors a) in good conscience, and b) in ways that actually add value to our readers’ experience of The Bitter Southerner?
Here’s how we think about the former. The goal of The Bitter Southerner is to show the world the genuine South, and there are many Southern businesses whose work deserves wide recognition. So you’ll see us form partnerships with certain businesses, helping them drive traffic to their establishments and/or websites.
You will always know two things about the businesses that sponsor The Bitter Southerner:
- The business will be creating jobs and/or economic activity in the South.
- Those of us who work at The Bitter Southerner will know something about the business and the people who run it. In other words, if we cannot in good conscience endorse their work, you won’t see them on The Bitter Southerner.
We think of it as old-school, “Grand Ole Opry”-style sponsorship. If we can’t say from experience that the miller’s flour makes good biscuits, we won’t help the miller sell his flour. When our drive ends, we will ship membership cards to all members, and all members will get a special monthly email to members only, starting Aug. 1, telling you about the deals and discounts you can get at Bitter Southerner Family Establishments. We encourage you to support these businesses, because they help keep The Bitter Southerner Family thriving — and because we believe the South we envision will be built, to a great extent, by good independent businesses such as these.
We’d like to thanks the folks at the businesses that have already taken on The Bitter Southerner Family Establishment designation. We appreciate your belief in what we’re doing.
When we made our first sponsorship sale, we did not have to talk very long before the business owner said, “Let me go in the back and get you a check.” We said, “Wait! Don’t you want to see the metrics?”
He replied, “I don’t need to see the metrics. I just want to market through people who live in the same South that I do.”
If your business lives in that same South, and you think it might benefit from being part of The Bitter Southerner Family, we’d be happy to talk to you. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From left to right: Dave Whitling, Kyle Tibbs Jones, Chuck Reece & Butler Raines
By Chuck Reece | Photo by Sarah Dorio
From my teenage years forward, I’ve been troubled by the fact that so many talented young Southern people believe they must move away to display their talents.
I used to believe that myself, and I have seven years of history in New York City to prove it. There, I learned I could take myself out of the South, but I could never take the South out of me. I remember the spring of 1985, about six months into my first stint in Manhattan, sitting in my little fifth-floor walkup apartment, listening to Tom Petty, a Florida boy, sing this:
There’s a Southern accent
Where I come from
The young’uns call it country
The Yankees call it dumb
I got my own way of talking
And everything gets done
With a Southern accent
Where I come from
We are who we are, I reckoned. I couldn’t hide my accent even when I tried. I’d just have to impress the New York folks with my talent instead, and that’s what I tried to do. Over time, I learned to love that city with a passion — its speed butting up against quiet moments in hidden dives, its incredible density and diversity, so many people from so many places living chockablock on a few islands and a smidge of the mainland, its remarkable and determined resilience in the days after those bastards took out the skyscrapers back in 2001, during my second and final stretch in Manhattan.
Yes, I learned to love it. But it was never Home.
Home had a different accent.
Which brings me to the most remarkable thing that’s happened since we started The Bitter Southerner. Had it happened only once, I would have read nothing into it. But it’s happened repeatedly now, so it’s worth sharing.
The first time, it went like this. I was sitting in a coffee shop in Atlanta, and a young man came up to me and asked me if I was the guy from The Bitter Southerner. I said I was. He said some very nice things about the BS, and then said this: “I decided to do my graduate work back home in the South because of your site.”
Wow. That was nice.
Then it happened again. And again. And again. “I moved home because of your website.” Or “I want to see if I can do what I want to do at home.”
Between all four partners, we’ve heard variations on this more than a dozen times now.
This is scary, given the responsibility it implies, but it is also heartening, because it says young Southerners are beginning to see more possibility to live the lives they want to live in their own region. Clearly, there are countless reasons why any person might choose to live in one place vs. another, and I’d not dare overstate the influence of one website, even if it’s mine, on such decisions.
But I do think — at least, I hope — that The Bitter Southerner is making a difference by assembling a community of folks who look at the region with new eyes, who see its possibilities in new ways, who are no longer content to live within the bounds of the stereotypes with which the national media too often portray our home.
We’ve learned three very important things by hanging out and working with folks in The Bitter Southerner Family over the last year.
Anyone who thinks the South does not harbor a great population of smart, hard-working, innovative people is ridiculously misinformed. The writers, photographers, filmmakers and illustrators who have shared their work with you demonstrate this consistently. But we also see it in our subjects — from the Mississippi and Memphis entrepreneurs behind Southern Airways Express, the little airline that could, to the wild creativity that drives the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans.
More people in the South are ready to talk about difficult topics than most of us think. Now and then, The Bitter Southerner gets serious and deals with issues of race ... or issues facing rural farming and fishing communities ... or issues of systemic inequity and violence in the South’s cities. On these occasions, we always see The Bitter Southerner Family stand up and wade into some difficult waters. And with very few exceptions, y’all treat each other with respect. You have civil dialogue on difficult issues. Imagine that.
The more of our readers we meet, the more deeply we believe the South actually isn’t “like that.” Think about it. Almost every mass-media depiction of the South plays off one of two ideas: obsequious gentility or obsequious redneckery. Well, we’ve actually met and talked to a whole bunch of you by now, and most of y’all seem to fit neither stereotype. Or sometimes you fit both, like this one guy from Adel, Ga., who told us he was a “genteel redneck.” See, it depends on the moment and the circumstances. The Southern Thing is complicated. And that’s the whole point: Simplistic stereotypes miss the essential truth of the South. But The Bitter Southerner community understands that the joy of the South isn’t in our region’s individual ingredients. The joy is in how we blend them.
For almost two years now, we’ve published stories about the genuine South. What matters the most to us about the whole experience so far? Well, of course we’re as proud as punch of the work of our writers, photographers, filmmakers and illustrators. But we are proudest of the fact those stories have united a community that wants to look at important ideas — and have a little fun in the process.
Today, The Bitter Southerner community is, by even the most conservative measures, at least 50,000 strong.
Damn. Look at what y’all have done. You have created what those eggheads at the consulting firms would call “a disruptive force.”
It’s our job, we know now, to foster this community — to keep on telling its stories, to find ways to bring its members together in the real world and not just the virtual one, and to help support the businesses that represent the next iteration of our region and the best of our region today.
If we’re gonna disrupt some old beliefs and explore a few new ones, we might as well do it right. And we think the best way to do that is by being an unconventional business: one that aims not only to make a profit, but also to make a difference.
As we prepared for this year’s membership drive, we asked our contributors — who have worked for us for far less money than they deserve — to tell us why The Bitter Southerner mattered to them. We’ll show you what all of them said, in a bigger way, come Thursday, but I wanted to share one thing in particular from our Man in Memphis, Richard Murff. Richard has the distinct (or dubious) honor of having written more stories for The Bitter Southerner than anyone but yours truly. He sent me one line in particular that stuck with me:
“What The Bitter Southerner presents is an unflinching view of a place in all its weird complexity – the sorrow and the laughter, the past and the present, our crimes and, we hope, redemption.”
It struck us that maybe Murff had hit the main nerve of The Bitter Southerner: In this family, we don’t flinch. We want to look at it all: the sad parts and the happy parts, the past and the present, what was done wrong and what can be done to set it right. We are weirdly complex, just like our home.
We hope we can count on you, our readers, as well. We are deeply and eternally grateful for your support. Please join The Bitter Southerner Family, patronize The Bitter Southerner Family Establishments and buy the occasional item from The Bitter Southerner General Store. We also hope we will see you at The Bitter Southerner Family Reunion this November or other events you’ll be hearing more about as the months roll on.
You’re our family now. We aim to do right by you.