In the Beginning

“Yes, you’re from South Memphis. Yes, you’ve always been underdogs. No one has handed you a thing. But that also means that whatever you accomplish in your lives, you’ll have earned it. Whatever rewards and joys you reap, you’ll appreciate them that much more because they will have come through your sweat and tears; the product of your efforts and talents. You’ve shown more grit and determination in your childhoods than a lot of adults ever will.”

With these words, Barack Obama rocked the crowd last month at the Cook Convention Center, where several thousand Memphians gathered to witness his Booker T. Washington High School 2011 commencement address, and where 155 BTW seniors were lucky enough to get a hearty handshake from the president of the United States along with their diplomas.

The presidential visit served as something of the perfect capstone for the most unusual May that Memphis has seen in many a year, a month that brought us no end of national publicity, most of it good (see p. 20). The flood, the Grizzlies, and the president all drew us together, in very real ways. And all this time in the limelight certainly gave each of us an opportunity to stop and think about ourselves, and about what kind of city Memphis, Tennessee, really is.

Our timing, then, in publishing this first-ever “Culture Issue” of Memphis magazine — something we hope to make an annual tradition every June — proved to be very fortuitous. Our celebration of all the threads woven together to form the cultural tapestry that functions as the backdrop of this city we all call home is intended to be just that: a celebration, no more, no less.

So we’ll let the individual pictures and stories do their own back-slapping on our city’s behalf. But I hope you will indulge me and join in congratulating everybody whose names are on the masthead on page 10 of this issue. That motley crew is responsible for Memphis — the magazine — adding another feather to its cap, winning the 2010 Gold Medal for General Excellence in the under-30,000 circulation category from the City and Regional Magazine Association. A perennial finalist in this 30-year competition, Memphis is the only city magazine in the country ever to have “won the gold” three years out of four (in our case 2007, 2008, and 2010). It may not quite be a three-peat, but it’s pretty darn close!

This success is a remarkable achievement for our staff, both present and past (and special kudos to our former art director, Hannah Johnson, and former editor, Mary Helen Randall, whose efforts were critical to our 2010 success). But we all like to think that this editorial recognition for Memphis magazine is part and parcel of “who we are” as a city. Because ours is such a weird, funky, and supremely unusual place, we have a huge advantage over just about every other city magazine in America. No wonder we keep winning these awards; no one else has our kind of raw material to work with!

Don Poier, the radio voice of the Grizzlies until his untimely death in 2005 (and wouldn’t he have enjoyed this year’s terrific NBA playoff run!), had a special phrase he called upon to describe something spectacular on the court. “Only in Memphis and the movies,” Poier would exclaim. “Only in Memphis and the movies!”

Don had it almost right. As all of us who’ve been here long enough to be considered halfway native, the truth isn’t all that complicated. In this city at least, Memphis is the movie.

Here’s hoping you enjoy this month’s set of trailers. This is one movie that’ll be on the big screen for a long time to come! 

                Kenneth Neill

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