‘Bitter’ no longer, Chuck Reece seeks ‘Salvation’ in new publication

Chuck and Stacy Reece have teamed up to produce a new online publication called Salvation South. Photo: courtesy Chuck Reece

Credit: Chuck Reece

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Chuck and Stacy Reece have teamed up to produce a new online publication called Salvation South. Photo: courtesy Chuck Reece

Credit: Chuck Reece

Credit: Chuck Reece

Co-founder of ‘The Bitter Southerner’ left his old publication last year.

Chuck Reece, who last year suddenly departed from his influential online magazine, The Bitter Southerner, has returned to the literary world.

On Friday Reece and his wife Stacy offered a first look at their new digital publication, Salvation South. With the mission of explaining and celebrating the South, it has similarities to Reece’s previous platform, but with an aggressively positive tone.

That tone was established last month when Reece first introduced the Salvation South concept, with an essay that began “My name is Chuck Reece, and I’m not bitter anymore.”

He pointed followers to a $100,000 Indiegogo campaign for a publication “inspired by hope and healing and — most importantly — the desire to create a place on the web and a community of people where civil conversation can happen.”

The first issue carries an essay by Russell Worth Parker of Wilmington, North Carolina, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I fought two wars to what now seem like maddeningly forgone conclusions. I think about the weight of all that daily,” he writes, but concludes on an optimistic note that he still has hope.

The Reeces spoke about their new venture recently while sipping hot drinks at Refuge Coffee, a nonprofit that provides training for refugees, near their home in Clarkston.

With the kora-infused sound of Afro-pop on the stereo in the background, Reece explained the difference between his old publication and the new one.

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Chuck Reece grew up in Ellijay and worked in corporate communications and as a press secretary for Gov. Zell Miller before starting his first online publication. Photo: courtesy Chuck Reece

Credit: Chuck Reece

Chuck Reece grew up in Ellijay and worked in corporate communications and as a press secretary for Gov. Zell Miller before starting his first online publication. Photo: courtesy Chuck Reece

Credit: Chuck Reece

caption arrowCaption
Chuck Reece grew up in Ellijay and worked in corporate communications and as a press secretary for Gov. Zell Miller before starting his first online publication. Photo: courtesy Chuck Reece

Credit: Chuck Reece

Credit: Chuck Reece

“We started out to debunk stereotypes about the South and Southerners,” he said. “That was eight years ago. We live in a different world now, stereotypes are the least of our problems. Our problems are all these divisions. Salvation South was created to provide some relief.”

The Bitter Southerner began in 2013 as a celebration of Southern institutions including hunting dogs, whiskey, rock ‘n’ roll and gumbo, with a philosophy that also acknowledged and faced the South’s racist past, in an attempt to come to grips with the good and the bad.

It produced one deeply-reported essay a week, often in the 4,000-word range, from contributors such as novelist Charles McNair and Drive-By Truckers songwriter Patterson Hood.

Reece’s leadership earned him plaudits, such as a comment from Kathleen Purvis, food editor at the Charlotte Observer, who wrote “Chuck Reece is the Maxwell Perkins of the modern age.”

The publication, which had no paywall, struggled financially. In 2015 it received an infusion of cash when Community Newspapers Inc., a family-owned chain of newspapers, including weeklies and bi-weeklies, bought a minority share of the enterprise. CNI board member Eric NeSmith became publisher of the Bitter Southerner.

In September of 2020 Reece announced he was leaving the Bitter Southerner to spend time working with his wife at her merchandising business, Down South House & Home.

NeSmith and Reece both said the decision was mutual.

Reece said recently that a one-year non-compete clause prohibited him from discussing his plans for Salvation South, or seeking writers or contributors until September 2021.

This year the Bitter Southerner expanded into print with large-format, full color magazines produced in April and September. The latest issue features writing from R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe, a letter from novelist Alice Walker and an unearthed 1990s interview with photography legend William Eggleston.

Contacted this week, NeSmith would offer no comment on Reece’s new publication, but said the Bitter Southerner continues to expand.

During his conversation at the coffee shop, Reece, 60, said he came back to long-form journalism because he needed to use that skill.

“I think I’m really good at two things, editing stories so that they have heart and assembling a community around them,” he said. “If I’m not doing that then I’m not doing what I should be doing.”

Reece said he has a few articles “in the can,” and collaborators who have agreed to work for the publication, including Carolyn Kellogg, former books editor at the Los Angeles Times.

He expects to fund Salvation South with paid memberships, advertising, and branded merchandise from Stacy Reece’s company. “Chuck handles the content and I handle producing all products that go in the store, like T-shirts, tea towels and coffee cups.” One popular tea-towel is emblazoned “It’s A Southern Thing.”

Asked if she’s apprehensive about the new venture, Stacy Reece said “Not a bit. He’s a brilliant editor, and we’ve got the infrastructure to create a revenue stream. I think,” she added, “we invented the tea towel.” As of Wednesday Salvation South had raised $32,000 in the Indiegogo campaign, which runs through Dec. 21.

Salvation has religious overtones, and the Reeces are almost evangelical about the product.

“It’s for people who want something different: to talk, to understand, to find a way back into a society in which we love our neighbors as we love ourselves,” said Chuck Reece in an online video.

“I believe in my soul that this cause is righteous.”

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