Whiskey and rock music.
There’s an argument to be made that the modern South is built in part–if not entirely–upon these two youthful delicacies. There’s a stronger argument that these are the pillars of The Bitter Southerner, which turned 1 this week and launched its first membership drive. For the uninitiated, the Web publication tells long-format, multimedia stories about the South. Though the pieces range in topic–from fabric-making to rapper Killer Mike–three things remain constant: The stories are in-depth, filled with audio and video, and Southern to the bone.
“That’s what this thing is about!” editor in chief Chuck Reece says when remembering the moment the site transcended itself. He’s referring to a line from “The Southern Thing” by the Drive-By Truckers that goes “Proud of the glory, stare down the shame / Duality of the Southern thing.”
Living in the South means understanding an often troublesome history while retaining a pride of place. “We want to look at the dualities which are inherent in Southern tradition,” says Chuck. “We also want to tell stories about people who don’t often get seen as Southerners.”
This wasn’t always the focus of The Bitter Southerner. In fact, the “bitter” in its name refers to the bitters giving old-fashioneds that lovely kick. Chuck visited New Orleans with his girlfriend (“now wife!”), and they spent the week hearing the stories of the souls behind “great bars.” Chuck, fascinated with old-time cocktails and the stories of those who make them, decided to tell those stories. He’d worked as a writer/editor his entire life–from advertising to journalism–so translating the tales to text came naturally to him.
Recruiting the skills of graphic designer Dave Whitling–now creative director of The Bitter Southerner–he created a website with the heart of the South and the technology of Silicon Valley.
“We had been doing this longform, multimedia storytelling for corporate clients,” Dave says. “But there just kept being these things we were bumping up against. There was always a better way in our minds that we were never getting to actualize.”
Essays popped to life with Dave’s interactive flourishes. Subject matter wasn’t lacking. Neither were contributors–writers from across the South finally had a place to dive deeply into their passion projects, a place without word limits or corporate parents to please.
Readers devoured it.
“We hit a nerve that was much more live-wire in nature than we expected,” says Chuck.
Adds Dave, “It was instantly humbling and surprising.”
The beginning was one year ago. Now, the publication is asking its readers to “Join the Family” by becoming a member in its inaugural membership drive. Packages range from $25 to $1,000, each coming with different gifts such as T-shirts, postcards, and posters. In addition, it’s launching a book club in association with Atlanta’s independent A Capella Books. The tagline says it all: Signed First Editions Delivered To Your Door. $250 earns four signed first editions, one T-shirt, and one notebook and pencil set.
Don’t delay, though. The membership drive and book club offers will dry up soon, and you’ll have to wait another revolution of the sun before having another chance.
In the meantime, keep reading our Southern brethren and don’t forget the duality of a Southern thing.