In the fall of 2013, an elegant little publication began appearing at boutiques and small businesses across the state of Tennessee. Print-lovers and local-culture enthusiasts soon took note: here was a new celebration of all things Tennessee: its arts and crafts, its people and places, and its culture past and present, all presented in a refreshingly contemporary package, each copy finished with a modern-rustic touch: a twine bow. Home & Hill: A Quarterly Magazine in the Tennessee Tradition was clearly intended to be more of a keepsake than a read-and-recycle magazine.
Founded by native Tennessean and Cookeville resident Anna Gilbert, Home & Hill aims to showcase the character of the state, from its magnificent natural settings to its historic monuments and hidden landmarks, to its makers and purveyors and artists and chefs. In the third issue, out now, readers are introduced to a young Nashville fashion designer, a hip hair-salon owner, a new Americana band, a kayak designer/competitive paddler, a self-taught blacksmith, and a father-son farming team, among others. Those profiles rub shoulders with recipes for elderflower marshmallows, homemade potato chips, and thyme-and-garlic-infused fried chicken. At the magazine’s midpoint, there’s a poem—or perhaps it’s more accurate to call it textual-art piece: “In Tennessee” features text laid over gorgeous photos: a close-up of lichen, a lush stand of thin-trunked trees.
Brief essays and musings on everything from the beard trend to the Tennessee State Capitol round out the next section of Home & Hill. This “Tales” segment has a grab-bag quality, loosely reminiscent of the short pieces found in the “Points South” section of The Oxford American. In her essay “To Pikeville We Go,” for example, Gilbert shares her own story of a leisurely Sunday drive in the Sequatchie Valley with her husband. Their destination is a stone home on the small town’s main street, but of course the journey is the real attraction. On the winding, hilly path of Highway 30, they discover “all the beautiful inconveniences that our interstates have made annoying to the contemporary traveler.”
Among these pieces, you’ll find no advertisements. On the outside, Home & Hill bears no alluring coverlines, no Photoshopped celebrities, no splashy shots of food or vacation destinations. There is only the title in clean white lettering, plus a hand-drawn logo, a hint of the sketch-like illustrations that accompany some of the stories inside. The magazine’s trim size differs from most lifestyle-and-culture magazines, too, its dimensions more typical of a literary journal. In fact, Home & Hill can fit that bill, as well: the final section of every issue is the “Log”—lined pages, each with the name and address of one of the subjects covered in the issue. Here Gilbert encourages readers to jot down their own stories as they discover these places, people, and things.
In other words, Home & Hill wants its readers to get out there, to slow down, to stop for a moment and take in the terrain. It celebrates heritage, but with a distinctly modern, minimalist finish: beautiful photography paired with textual vignettes, printed on creamy white stock, thick and matte-textured, and pleasingly substantive. And in keeping with a niche-publishing movement in which periodicals are fashioned as lovely collectible objects with what Gilbert calls a “no-strings-attached approach to content,” Home & Hill’s size and scope and design are all part of an elegant “rebellion against the commercialized structure” of the mainstream newsstand.
“I started Home & Hill because I was weary of hearing about the impossible nature of publishing and how the system for writers—even good ones—is incredibly dim,” Gilbert says. “I thought, ‘Boy, if I’m the one in charge, I’ll answer every submission request and give a friendly reply even if the work isn’t quite right. I’ll be engaging and open and won’t leave writers feeling small.’”
Gilbert lives with her husband and three children in Cookeville and holds a master’s degree in English. She taught at Tennessee Tech, where she incorporated magazine layout into her composition curriculum, before embarking on her own publishing venture. Today she coordinates a freelance staff of designers, photographers, and writers to produce the magazine, but she also writes a good bit of the content herself. The magazine’s book-ish design is very much the product of her vision. “I chose heavy paper because I wanted to garner a higher price per copy,” she says. “Plus, #100 stock gets us up to the coveted one-inch thickness mark, which is cozy stacking size. It just looks and feels pretty.”
Three issues in, Gilbert is far from jaded, but perhaps a tad shrewder. “It’s really tough to sell an all-editorial publication that costs $18,” she admits. “At core, I’m a writer, but realistically ads make the world go round. I’ve found out that even though one is nice and smart and articulate, skill and calculation win out when it comes to marketing and sales.” The magazine’s success depends on that kind of savvy, but also on readers—who, if they believe in Gilbert’s mission, her dedication to doing publishing differently, will support it with their dollars. The tough truth, she’s found, is that “followers don’t always become buyers.”
Home & Hill is now available at Hudson News in the Nashville International Airport, a smart positioning move on Gilbert’s part. “This publication can be used as a traveler’s guide,” she notes. “I’m focusing efforts on capitalizing on all its strong points as a guide, literary journal, and compilation of profiles.”
Considering that unique blend of content, not to mention its trappings, Home & Hill is not much like any other magazine, which is one of its biggest charms. But it does conjure unavoidable thoughts of a certain publication whose title also incorporates alliteration and an ampersand. Was Gilbert inspired by Garden & Gun? “You’re definitely not the first person to ask the question,” she says, noting that the comparison was the first thing Mike Wolfe of American Pickers said to her when she first scoped out his store, Antique Archaeology, as a possible retailer for the magazine. “My response is and always has been, ‘I hope to accomplish great stuff like them.’ I’m certainly not offended.”
For now, Gilbert’s happy to pursue a magazine format that allows for playfulness and experimentation with genre—stories “that are not your teacher’s kind of essay”—and to take the “less-traveled road” of a single-state, rather than regional, focus. And, she notes, “We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the response of out-of-state and even international readers. Tennessee is a strong brand.”
Susannah Felts is a writer, editor, and educator in Nashville, as well as co-founder of The Porch Writers’ Collective, a nonprofit literary center. She is the author of This Will Go Down On Your Permanent Record, a novel, and numerous journal and magazine articles.