Gay Talese’s Basement
|Y’all: The Magazine of Southern People
Most regions of the United States have their own magazines, covering the tourist sites, people, music, politics and lifestyle of that area. For example, the Northeast has Yankee, the Midwest maintains Midwest Living and the Western U.S. supports Sunset. Now the South has added another magazine to the mix: Y’all: The Magazine of Southern People.
The name resonates with Southern folk while leaving many in the rest of the country scratching their heads and going, “Now, how do you spell that?” “Y’all” is the epitome of Southern talk, and it makes this Arkansas-bred girl stand out in the big city.
Publisher Jon Rawl, a native of South Carolina, conceived the magazine two and a half years ago after noticing the success of Southern Living, which focuses on such things as flowers, recipes and homemaking tips. “There has not been a magazine about Southern people,” Rawl told The Washington Times in 2004. He envisioned a mix of music, sports, movies and politics, all focusing on Southern celebrities and intended to “capture today’s Southern spirit,” which alludes to a simpler time and the Southern hospitality we Southerners all embrace.
The Southern spirit may be holding its own, but at this point, Y’all appears to be a long way from prosperity. Its circulation is around 100,000 (Southern Living maintains a circulation above 2.5 million). Its January/February 2005 issue contained a scanty 78 pages. It is available consistently only in 15 Southern states; and it can be found on only a few newsstands elsewhere, which made it necessary for me to ask my mother to buy a copy at a local video store and overnight it here to New York for this review.
Now, I love the South—our culture, our people, our hospitality, our accents and our throwback to a simpler life. As a Southern gal transplanted to the Big Apple for graduate school, I had high hopes for this magazine. Imagine, a publication where I could get my fill of information about Southern celebrities, wines, sports and music! Reading it, however, left me with mixed feelings.
At first glance, the magazine looks like a standard celebrity-oriented glossy. The main photo on the cover of the January/February issue showcases three Southerners in the television show “Grey’s Anatomy” alongside smaller pictures of Larry the Cable Guy, the South’s redneck comedian, and Louisiana’s own Britney Spears. The magazine’s title stands out inside a large square. At the top of the page is a list of other people featured in this issue. The effect, both outside and in, is a lot more Us Weekly than Yankee.
Y’all does deliver on its promise to feature Southern music, celebrities, news and politics. From the reviews of two of Dixie’s most popular entertainers, the Dave Matthews Band and Britney Spears, to the cover stories on Isaiah Washington, Chandra Wilson and Katherine Heigl of “Grey’s Anatomy,” the magazine Y’all eats and breathes Southern culture. Its editorial staff consists mostly of Southern natives, with a couple of converts from other areas of the country thrown in. Laurie Stieber, identified as the “Cranky Yankee,” authors two pieces, one focusing on a child who relocated from Long Island to Memphis during the second grade and another on the multibillionaire owner of Home Depot, Bernie Marcus, who built and dedicated the new Georgia Aquarium.
The lack of depth in many of the articles is disappointing. Only one—a piece on the automotive industry moving to the South—actually gave the magazine some meat and backbone. I also found grammatical and spelling errors in several of the pieces, a worrisome sign. Slips like these could perpetuate the stereotype many hold of Southerners—that we’re all hillbillies needing an education.
One likable aspect of the magazine is the mix of short items and commentary with the longer pieces. For example, the struggles and eventual success of Nashville musician Phil Vassar are followed on the next page by financial advice from Southern counselor Dave Ramsey.
The few advertisements the magazine has can sometimes make it feel like a tourism guide, courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce. One full-page ad is dedicated to persuading the reader to come to Mississippi. Another, on the back cover, invites you to support the next generation of Texas artists with a “State of the Arts” license plate.
Despite all the disappointments, I have to confess that I enjoyed reading through this publication. Up here in the North, I don’t get enough information about Southern life. Y’all stays true to its limited vision and mission—it focuses on Southern people. But the focus is narrow and, for the most part, there’s no depth of field. It certainly should not be taken as an authoritative source of Southern information. For that, ask a Southerner.