Editor's Letter: Awaken 2024

Editor's Letter: Awaken 2024

Photo by Ari Skin

I love that our first issue of the year comes out in February. As the winter slowly melts away, it feels like the true fresh start to a year. The sun stays up longer, we spend more time outside of our homes, and the world begins to come back to life. It feels like the right time for new opportunities and new growth—at least that’s true for me. 

I wrote my first story for Good Grit in 2016 at 24 years old, just two years out of college. I was working at a bakery, baby sitting, and barely putting my English degree to use writing for local publications a few times a year—but one of my regulars knew I wanted to be a writer, and when Laura Quick came to town, he introduced me.

Laura is a yes person. For herself (that’s how she was able to start a magazine when the whole world was telling her that print was dead), and for others (that’s how I got my first article, assigned in the middle of my bakery shift). I was so nervous when I turned that first story in—it was the first thing I’d written that was distributed outside of the state—but Laura loved it, and I loved it, and it led to many many more yeses. 

By 2018, I was one of the magazine’s most consistent writers. I’d moved back to Nashville and began working in digital marketing, but I always believed that one day I’d be working in editorial full time. Laura could feel that I wanted it too. It wasn’t that she was super perceptive (although she is)—I’d just been telling everyone since the third grade that writing would be my career. But the thing about big dreams is that they don’t often happen overnight, and they don’t often happen in the way you plan. When Laura was finally able to offer me a job, it wasn’t full-time, and it wasn’t writing. But I said yes to a part-time job helping with social media and digital, because Laura had said yes to me.

I left my full-time digital marketing job at the end of 2019, and I took a long trip to visit a friend in California while I figured out what I wanted to do. Just a few months later, the world shut down. In the midst of the chaos and unpredictability, my part-time work at Good Grit kept me sane. Despite people cutting expenses (magazines unfortunately are not a necessary part of a family budget), Laura kept us focused on the positive. We hunted down the good news, and we shared it with the readers that stuck around—and I realized that when you shift your focus to the good stuff, life feels a little bit better.

In the summer of 2020, uncertainty still hung in the air. Laura asked me to come to Birmingham, and I knew it must be important if she was asking me to travel. It was my first trip since the shutdown, and it’s one I can recall vividly. She and I sat alone in the office, the city quiet around us, when she told me that she could finally offer me a dream. I left that day with the title of Managing Editor.

The years since have been filled with travel to small towns I never would have chosen to visit that have become my favorite weekend escapes, meals that I can’t wait to share with my family and friends, and discoveries that keep my curiosity alive—but most importantly, really good people. I loved this work, and I would have done it forever if Laura hadn’t given me another reason to say yes.

I enter 2024 as the new Editor-in-Chief of Good Grit. The things I love about my work won’t change, I just get to experience more of it. More dreaming and planning, more traveling and exploring, more asking and listening, more connecting. Through these pages, I want to give you what this job—this dream—has given to me: community. In a world that's centered around screens, it's easy to miss out on real connections. I want to push you to know your neighbors, hang out with your friends beyond dinner and drinks, and build meaningful relationships that make life worth living. My hope is that these stories won’t just be good reads, but sparks for some serious thinking—slowing down, ditching the digital bubble, and really getting to know the cool people who are all around you. Good Grit is your nudge to go beyond the usual and uncover the richness in your community, and that starts with this issue. 

Inside, you'll meet some iconic people paving the way in Mississippi, get the lowdown on giving (spoiler: no act is too small), and dive into the real story behind Tennessee Whiskey. We'll also help you figure out your reading vibe and give you the 411 on where and when to plan your next adventure .

So, let this issue be your excuse to put down your phone, have a chat with a stranger, and walk with wonder into the world. Here's to a year filled with more real connections, engaging experiences, and a bunch of newfound friends.

Ashley Locke