A Refuge for Storytellers, a Haven for Readers

Salvation South has become something special—and, we hope, an essential part of your week. Please help us keep it alive and thriving.

Two years ago, when we launched Salvation South, we asked you to “think of Salvation South as a big old house party.” We dreamed this publication would become a joyous place where people celebrated the culture and potential of the American South. 

What would that party look like? Truth is, we didn’t have much of a clue. We just knew we wanted to invite Southern writers, photographers, and filmmakers—storytellers of all kinds. And we hoped the stories they told would celebrate our culture and show reasons to be hopeful about our region’s future.

Is Salvation South, two years later, exactly what we envisioned? No. It’s more. It’s more than just a “house party.” It is more than, as we said, “a home for hope” in the South. It has become a refuge for Southern writers of every sort. And it has become a haven for readers like you, who care deeply about the South and welcome our weekly opportunity to read stories that rise above the constant conflict that marks every moment in every medium these days. 

Great journalists such as Pulitzer Prize winner Cynthia Tucker, nature writer Janisse Ray, and legendary music writers Holly Gleason and Don McLeese have lent their words to our pages. We’ve brought you in-depth interviews with legendary musicians, like Gleason’s talk with Dolly Parton, my own with Iris DeMent, Rob Rushin-Knopf’s with Lonnie Holley. In our first two years, we have published the work—fiction and nonfiction—of over 200 Southern writers and photographers. It’s been our privilege to bring you the work of some of the greatest novelists working in our region, including Daniel Wallace, Silas House, and Ron Rash. More than fifty Southern poets—including widely lauded names such as Annie Woodford, Ray McManus, KB Ballentine, and Denton Loving—have given their verses to you. 

We’ve also gone beyond words on the page to words for your ears. For more than a year, we’ve contributed weekly commentaries about the South to the twenty-station radio network of Georgia Public Broadcasting. Those commentaries have become the Salvation South Podcast. And (big announcement here!) beginning on November 24, we will debut Salvation South Deluxe—special half-hour shows that tell deeper stories about Southerners who are reaching across the barriers of culture and color that once divided us, coproduced with GPB.

As Salvation South has grown to encompass these things, I have learned a big lesson of my own. 

There is no single Southern story, no absolutely correct Southern cause to unite behind. There are, as our friend and frequent contributor, Charles McNair, says, “ten thousand Souths.”

There is no single Southern story, no absolutely correct Southern cause to unite behind. There are, as our friend and frequent contributor, Charles McNair, says, “ten thousand Souths.”

A decade ago, when I first dove into editing a publication about the South, I thought there were only two types of stories about us—the ones by people who loved this place and saw its potential, and the ones by people who saw fit only to mock us. I wanted to give the lie to stereotypes of our region and our people. I wanted to make a place for talented journalists to do that debunking in sharply worded stories that were beautifully designed and photographed. I wanted to show the world outside that we smarter and hipper than they had ever considered.

In other words, I wanted to show that we were better than them. Oops.

Judging your insides by somebody else’s outsides? That ain’t no way to live. And it plays right into the division that most of the media—mainstream and fringe—perpetuates every day. We are, they say…better than you, faster than you, smarter than you, cooler than you, richer than you, hipper than you, prettier than you, righter than you.

Salvation South today does something different. I used to ask writers to tell the story of the South. But I never asked them to write the story of their South.

The contributors and readers of Salvation South slowly over the past two years have taught me finally to make the right request. Tell us, please, the story of your South. What do you love? Who do you love? Why do you love them? What do you eat? Why do you eat it? Who do you remember? Why do those memories matter to you? What is that thing deep in your gut that keeps gnawing at you, that thing that you want to tell about the South that you know—the South you learned in the high mountains of Appalachia, on the streets of Jackson, in the salt air and sands of our barrier islands, or in the expanses of our croplands and pastures?

Salvation South has become a refuge for Southern storytellers of every sort. Regardless of their backgrounds. Regardless of whether their stories are true or fictional or personal or poetic or some combination thereof.

Salvation South is a place where Southerners can come to hear the stories of all their Southern brothers and sisters, knowing that no story’s purpose is to divide them from their neighbors. Instead, their purpose is only to let us hear our neighbors. 

And we aspire to expand that refuge: January of 2024 will bring the first in a series Salvation South Writing Workshops, aimed at helping storytellers of all skill levels write the stories of their South.

A couple of months ago, I had lunch with a retired-but-still-writing journalist in Atlanta whose name remains widely known and respected. When we got around to talking about Salvation South, he said this to me: “You’ve created a haven there.”

That felt right to me. That’s what this place has become. It is a refuge for its storytellers and a haven for its readers. A place where Southerners can come to hear the stories of all their Southern brothers and sisters, always knowing that no story’s purpose is to divide them from their neighbors. Instead, their purpose is only to let us hear our neighbors. 

The desire that burns brightest within the people of Salvation South—my wife and partner Stacy and me, plus the volunteer readers and editors (thank you Andy, Pat, Marianne, Patti, Meredith, and others) who help us make this possible—is simply to make this refuge sustainable. To keep it alive. 

Thus, we need your help on this, our second anniversary. We have a system in place that allows people to become “members” of Salvation South—through annual or monthly subscriptions at four levels. We plan to remind you of this with shocking frequency over the next three weeks in the hope that you sign up to one of them. 

And during the coming three weeks, we’re going to bring you some of the best storytelling we’ve been able to round up. This week brings A Eulogy to King Coal, a short film from the Oscar-nominated West Virginia documentarian Elaine McMillion Sheldon and a fierce poem from the astoundingly great African American Alabama poet (and National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow) Dr. Jacqueline Allen Trimble. Next week will bring writing from the great Southern novelists Jonathan Odell and Annette Saunook Clapsaddle, whose 2020 book Even as We Breathe was the first novel ever published by a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. You’ll see a new piece of short fiction from Mississippi’s Michael Farris Smith, who this fall saw the release of two major motion pictures based on his novels—Desperation Road from Michael’s 2017 book of the same name, and Rumble Through the Dark, based on 2018’s The Fighter. And our longtime contributor Marianne Leek will wrap things up with an in-depth interview with one of the greatest Appalachian novelists ever, North Carolina’s Ron Rash.

We’ve named our membership levels after stuff Southerners eat. To be a Cornbread-level member, the cost is $50 per year or $5 per month. The next level up is Biscuit: $100 per year or $10 per month. The next is Sunday Dinner Roll (the good yeasty kind): $150 per year or $15 per month. And finally, you can be the Red Velvet Cake on our dessert plate by subscribing for $250 per year or $25 per month. All memberships include a standing discount in the Salvation South Store, ranging from 10 to 25 percent, depending on the level. Members also move to the front of the line when we announce sign-ups for writing workshops or other events.

Each of those levels also comes with a special premium gift. If you are already a member, we sent you an email last week to let you know that no action is required on your part, and we offered you a chance to tell us if you wanted the gift we’d love to give you or would rather just have our gratitude for your support. 

As y’all already know, cornbread, biscuits, dinner rolls, and red velvet cake are all wonderful staples of the Southern table. We hope you will pick up whichever one you prefer, because we promise that if you do, we will keep this kitchen open and smelling good.

Author Profile

Chuck Reece is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Salvation South, the weekly web magazine you're reading right now. He was the founding editor of The Bitter Southerner. He grew up in the north Georgia mountains in a little town called Ellijay.

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