O.Henry Continues a Special Partnership
Four years ago, on a late spring afternoon that felt much like the beastly summer we’re having, I climbed the steps to a warm cluster of offices in an old mansion on Bennett Street to meet and chat with Andie Rose, the founder of a small but creative tabloid arts monthly called PineStraw.
The idea was to determine whether Andie and I had anything resembling creative chemistry. David Woronoff, publisher of The Pilot, had approached Andie about coming to work for The Pilot and proposed to her that I become the editor of PineStraw. It had the scent of an arranged marriage.
Yet something really interesting happened.
As we sat almost knee-to-knee in her tiny little upstairs office, Andie and I began sharing our ideas for an arts and culture magazine that would not only inform readers from the Sandhills about the lively arts scene here, but also amuse, entertain, delight and possibly even inspire them to read the magazine from cover to cover.
The key to success, we agreed, would be authenticity, great writing, beautiful, clean design, and a palpable sense of wit and wonder that would take a reader someplace interesting every issue.
Andie, I learned, was a local girl who’d taken herself off to art school in the late 1970s and went on to work for several award-winning magazines in Dallas and a legendary catalog before wandering back East.
She eventually came home to the Pines, bringing her inexhaustible creativity and clever ideas to the streets of her hometown and the infant pages of PineStraw, which she and the late Brent Hackney established in the spring of 2005.
Over the past 15 years, whether it’s the restoration of the Sunrise Theater or the decorated trees you see on the streets of Southern Pines at Christmastime, you can be assured Andie played a critical role in bringing a great idea to life.
In many cases, the life-enriching ideas most of us simply take for granted were hers — though she’s far too modest to take even a shred of credit.
When I arrived, I had a thriving book-writing career going and 35 years of travels through the magazine world, highlighted by enriching stops at three legendary magazines — resulting in an unattained desire to shape and edit my own magazine using the things I absorbed at those places.
There was also some unfinished business. Back in 1988, I had been asked by my boss at Yankee Magazine to design and create a prototype for a Southern version of the beloved New England Magazine.
I developed that prototype and proposed — and here’s a sweet touch of irony — that we headquarter the magazine either in Pinehurst/Southern Pines (which I knew from my childhood and years as a golf writer) or in my hometown of Greensboro, which has a splendid legacy of producing outstanding writers and artists.
Long story short, the recession of 1989 took care of Yankee’s Southern magazine, which would have been called “The Southerner” and edited by yours truly. To say the least, I was greatly disappointed.
So for the next 17 years, I went off and had a swell life on the coast of Maine — marriage, kids, travel and work — every now and then pausing to think about that Southern magazine that never came to be.
Enter David Woronoff, who cleverly brought Andie and me together in that tiny overheated aerie over Bennett Street four years ago. I doing so, he changed all three of our lives and created a productive partnership and friendship.
Within a year of working together on PineStraw, the magazine was more than three times its original size and growing. Then, in July 2008, we took the magazine to a new glossy format and saw it make another leap in circulation and revenue.
All along, at a time when subscription-based magazines are struggling to meet ever-rising costs and stay alive, I had a firm belief that a free magazine of unusually high quality and content, presented monthly with a carefully targeted distribution plan that made it available at places where people who care about local arts and culture shop, eat, sleep and congregate, would find its way into both readers’ and advertisers’ hands — and maybe even their hearts.
Our goal has been to keep giving PineStraw readers a magazine that celebrates the richness of our lives in the Sandhills, but also constantly surprises. A year or so ago, we upgraded the paper and dimensions of the magazine to make it even more of a visual pleasure — producing, among other things, a host of flattering inquiries from media types in major markets to wonder how we were pulling off such a fine magazine every month in a small town like Southern Pines.
For the first time, we joined the regional Southern magazine publisher’s association and managed to win four major awards for design, concept and writing at the association’s annual conference in Atlanta.
A successful magazine is nothing if not creatively organic. It must constantly challenge its own success by providing even richer content while pushing for new boundaries.
In recent years, we’ve been encouraged by friends and admirers in places such as Raleigh, Wilmington, Greensboro and even Charlotte to bring our unique brand of intimate storytelling to their markets.
But — as David pointed out to the 150 or so brave souls who ventured out in Arizona heat Thursday evening to help us launch O.Henry magazine at a reception at the Greensboro Historical Museum — enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, our subject is in our DNA and crucial to our success.
For that reason alone, Greensboro was the logical place to birth our sister magazine, a town where I grew up and have unusually deep roots, nicely presaged by the writing award I won quite unexpectedly in 1970, my junior year at Grimsley High School. It was called the O.Henry Award, named after the famed short story writer who wrote “The Gift of the Magi” and hundreds of other beloved tales.
The name for the new magazine seemed perfectly obvious to me, and the list of contributing editors and writers who will grace its pages — and occasionally PineStraw’s as well — reads like a who’s who of the Gate City’s most celebrated authors and journalists.
When it came my turn to speak Thursday evening to an enthusiastic cross-section of Greensboro folks, I pointed out that O.Henry magazine is a long-hoped-for homecoming for me, a chance to take what I’ve learned and give it a clear new voice to a splendid old city that has both a thriving arts culture and a fascinating history, not to mention a business community in the early stages of an impressive renaissance.
In sum, we’re excited about the possibilities for both our magazines — the continued growth and improvement of PineStraw and the chance to celebrate my hometown the way it deserves to be done.
‘Two Great Magazines’
The good news for PineStraw readers is that beginning this week, both magazines will be available at the offices of the magazine and The Pilot on West Pennsylvania Avenue. So do drop in and pick up both issues and let us know what you think.
Aptly, the first visitor to the PineStraw office Friday morning was my dear friend Mary Jane Knight, a longtime resident of Southern Pines who grew up in Greensboro and lived just a block from me when I was doing the same thing. We met at Brownson Church one warm summer morning five years ago, and it was like, as they say, old home week.
“I heard about the new magazine and I wanted to see if I might be able get a copy,” Mary Jane explained in her usual elegant manner, after we’d caught up a bit on each other’s busy lives.
It was my pleasure to be able to hand this grand lady from the Gate City, who shares my love of the Sandhills, her first peek at O.Henry.
“Oh, my,” she declared, obviously pleased. “This is lovely. Now I have two great magazines to read.”
On behalf of my partners Andie and David, I thanked her sincerely — noting this was sweet summer music to the ears of a pair of hometown kids.
Jim Dodson, Sunday essayist for The Pilot and editor of PineStraw and O.Henry magazines, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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