Unless you’re a subscriber of the publication Garden & Gun, you may have missed a phenomenal feature in the magazine’s August/September issue. We’re here to rectify that situation. A preview of a book to be released next year, the feature titled simply “Southern Women” showcases “10 fearless, funny, smart, driven, dynamic women in every decade of life.”
It’s an inspiring display of strength and beauty across generations, and it really took our breath away. That’s why we were thrilled when the magazine offered to let us share their beautiful images from the feature with you. We also sat down with Garden & Gun deputy editor Amanda Heckert to get the backstory and find out what we can expect from the book.
The Bookworm: Daliyah Arana, age 6, from Gainesville, Georgia
The Comeback Kid: Madeline Jordan, age 14, from Tallahassee, Florida
The Bandleader: Amanda Shires, age 36, from Lubbock, Texas
The Wisecracker: Tig Notaro, age 47, from Pass Christian, Mississippi
The Bon Vivant: Carla Hall, age 54, from Nashville, Tennessee
The Philanthropist: Darla Moore, age 64, from Lake City, South Carolina
The Storyteller: Lee Smith, age 73, from Grundy, Virginia
The Rancher: Minnie Lou Bradley, age 86, from Hydro, Oklahoma
The Grande Dame: Leah Chase, age 95, from Madisonville, Louisiana
An Interview With Garden & Gun’s Amanda Heckert
What was behind the idea to do a feature with one kickass lady from each decade of life?
I had been gathering Southern women’s stories for our next Garden & Gun book, which we decided to preview in the August/September issue, and I was finding it hard to choose which of the terrific interviews to include. Then it occurred to me: Why not share with readers an inspiring woman’s voice from every stage of life? A window into what their lives have not only been like over the decades, but where they are and the wisdom they have to share at this particular moment in time? That way we’d get a spectrum of perspectives — because these women have varied backgrounds, experiences, vocations, and geographic locations, but also because with age comes shifts in personal development, priorities, goals, obstacles, and opportunities.
How did you choose these specific girls/women for the story?
I’ll start with Amanda Shires, who represented the 30s decade. G&G has long appreciated her musical talents, and when we did our first Southern Women feature, in 2011, Amanda was in it. I wanted to revisit her story, seven years later. She’d branched out as a solo artist, gotten married, become a mother. What else had changed for her? What had she learned? The comedian Tig Notaro had been on my interview wish list since her Amazon series, One Mississippi, debuted, and I loved what she had to share about how her health issues had shifted her outlook. Carla Hall is such a great chef and TV host, and perpetually effervescent — I wanted to know more about how she not only shaped her path but her attitude. The artist Dorothy Shain had worked briefly at Garden & Gun as a receptionist before she turned to art full-time, and then her career just skyrocketed — what were the challenges in devoting your life to art in this day and age? How does she balance art and commerce?
The philanthropist Darla Moore has spent her incredibly successful post-Wall Street life to giving away her billions. I’d argue there are a few people who have been as generous to South Carolina educational institutes and museums as she has. Lee Smith’s novels belong in the pantheon of Southern literature; I’d just finished her memoir, Dimestore, and knew she had insights to share about the challenges and blessings of being a Southern woman. Learning about Minnie Lou Bradley was serendipitous. I had just received a press release about a celebration she was involved in, and I imagined a barrier-breaking Texas rancher in her 80s would have plenty of stories to share—and did she! And Leah Chase? She’s a legendary Southern chef, and she had just celebrated her 95th birthday; having her friend, the culinary historian Jessica B. Harris, interview her only enriched the conversation.
I left Daliyah Arana and Madeline Jordan for last, because when we originally planned the book, we had not included any younger girls. I wanted to highlight two young women who were outstanding and ambitious — their interviews prove that even though they claim fewer years than the other women, their viewpoints have just as much value.
Do you think that Southern women age differently than other women or face different challenges around aging that women in other parts of the country might not?
I don’t know that the Southern experience is so different from other regions, but when I think about the older Southern women in my own life, particularly my grandmothers, I think about the little ways they took care of themselves. My maternal grandmother rolled tires at a Michelin factory, yet always maintained famously hot pink nails. I have such vivid memories of her freshening them up on Saturday nights as we watched Braves games at her house. And my grandfather drove my paternal grandmother everywhere, and after he died, she didn’t feel comfortable getting behind the wheel, but she was not going to miss her standing appointment at her hairdresser. So she drove slowly, carefully, 30 minutes to get her perm set every week — even into her late-80s. Someone who didn’t know better would assume this kind of pride in one’s appearance was about vanity or societal pressure, but I think there’s a more nuanced interpretation: It was about doing something for yourself that makes you feel good even when faced with difficulties or unglamorous circumstances — something that reminds you who you are, gives you something to smile about, even when you’re working at a tire factory.
In the process of creating this story, what did you learn — or what surprised you — about being an “awe-inspiring, risk-taking, big-dreaming, barrier-breaking, soul-baring, freewheeling” Southern woman?
Their drive, especially the women in the older decades. That instinct to create, to influence, to advocate — it doesn’t stop for them just because they’re of retirement age. They have something to say, they have wisdom to share, and they are not going gently into that good night. Leah Chase still shows up at her restaurant every day! And it’s because they’re all doing something they love. I know people who hate it when their birthdays roll around; they’d rather avoid thinking about getting older. I’ve never felt that way. I have friends and family who didn’t live to see my age, and would, I think, have been happy to have had the opportunity to have more years. Hearing these women’s stories and witnessing their ambition no matter their decade just reinforces my belief that there’s reason to be thankful — and there’s more to give the world — with each birthday.
What can we expect from the forthcoming book?
More of these incredible women! About a hundred more, to be exact. The book will feature the voices and stories of Southern women from every walk of life — musicians, actors, playwrights, poets, authors, chefs, designers, artists, photographers, advocates, public servants, and more. For too long, the Southern woman has been synonymous with the Southern belle — a soft, gauzy stereotype that personified the “moonlight and magnolias” myth of the region. It’s a version that gets nowhere close to describing the strong, richly diverse women who have thrived because of — and in some cases, despite of — the South. With this book, we’d like to redefine how the world thinks about the region by amplifying more of these brilliant, groundbreaking female voices, women who have by turns embraced the South’s proud traditions and overcome its equally pervasive barriers and challenges. Together, these women will paint a definitive portrait of who the Southern woman is now.
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