THOM 7 | Fall / Winter 2016

ThomArts

VISIONARIES

“We are always looking

behind things and under

things,” Chuck says.

“The most difficult question we have gotten,

consistently, since we started is: How do you define

the South?” Chuck says. “And, well, that’s not easy.”

What defines a culture? Well, basically, it’s what

always defines a group of people: their stories.

Southern stories, like Southern culture, go beyond

a simple definition of geography and the boundary

of the Mason-Dixon line. The heartbeat of the story

must pulse as one with the collective heartbeat

of the South. As the editor of The Bitter Southerner,

Chuck is always seeking

to capture this elusive

thing, this pulse.

“People want to be

proud of where they

live and in a place like

the South, that requires

Photo by Whitney Ott

some acknowledgement

of some less-thansavory

parts of our past,” he explains. “We don’t

shy away from that, but we don’t wade into the

politics of things, either. We are just storytellers.

What makes a good story for us is if it’s told well

and is defined in a certain way by the negative space

between the stereotypes you see in the national

media about the South.”

It is not all just stories about grits and biscuits,

bluegrass, banjo and bourbon, low country and

backwater, hunting dogs and ghosts that linger,

oysters and hot summer nights, Sunday school and

segregation, front porches and lush gardens, fishing

stories and drinking stories. Not all race relations

and reconciliation, civility and hospitality, progress

and tradition. Although — sometimes it is, except,

turned inside out and from a new angle, a fresh

perspective. “We are always looking behind things

and under things,” Chuck says.

“There is no way that someone can read one story

published in The Bitter Southerner and get anywhere

close to a complete sense of what the South is

actually like, today, in 2016,” Chuck says. “But my

hope is that over time, a reader can read a collection

and get a more complete sense of what this place

is like… and really get a sense for how it doesn’t

always fit those stereotypes that most people have

about the American South.”

'This past July marked the anniversary of

three years’ worth of weekly features for The

Bitter Southerner. Which puts Chuck’s collection

somewhere in the neighborhood of 155 stories: an

impressive archive of memories, mythologies, voices,

textures, tones and traditions of what we invoke

when we talk about the South. Each story shines

the light on a different aspect of Southern life. It is a

living, breathing, growing archive.

“Our point of view from the very beginning was

that we are not going to feed you the stuff that you

are always fed about the South. We are going to

tell the stories about people who are doing cool or

interesting or innovative things in the South that

maybe the world doesn’t know about,” Chuck says.

The Bitter Southerner was originally created by four

founding partners and began as an idea for a

cocktail blog, for recounting stories about bars and

bartenders and Southern cocktail culture. Yet, it

quickly grew to embrace a much more expansive

portrayal of life in the South.

In the beginning, writers simply gave them stories

for free. Journalists kept approaching them with

stories about the South and a feeling like there was

no place to put them. “I used to joke that during our

first year, we had become the home of lost stories,”

says Chuck, with laughter.

“Every writer who has been at it for a while, has

tucked away in a notebook somewhere, a story that

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