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Rebecca Darwin smiles and holds a copy of Garden & Gun magazine.

CEO Rebecca Wesson Darwin calls Garden & Gun “a metaphor for the South.” Forty percent of subscribers live outside the South. (photo courtesy of Garden & Gun)

Publishing pioneer

Alumna Rebecca Wesson Darwin redefined Southern magazines with the award-winning Garden & Gun.

“Garden” and “gun” are words that don’t seem to go together, but Rebecca Wesson Darwin (history ’75) has succeeded in combining the two to create a magazine that speaks to the “soul of the South.”

Garden & Gun, which Darwin launched in 2007, seeks to dig deeper to tell the stories of the South and its diverse people. An example is a piece about CNN analyst Bakari Sellers and his book on the “long-ignored lives of rural African Americans.”

“We’re also known for our coverage of arts and culture, food, travel, music, design and, of course, the sporting life,” said Darwin, a one-time New York publisher with an entrepreneurial spirit who is now president and CEO of the Charleston, South Carolina, media company that owns Garden & Gun.

The goal from the outset was to be a national magazine about a region rather than a regional magazine about the South. About 40 percent of the magazine’s circulation comes from outside the South, a demographic largely unchanged since the publication was launched.

Garden & Gun has a passionate and loyal following in part because of its reputation for polished writing and beautiful photography as it tells the stories of musicians, chefs, artisans, entrepreneurs and other interesting people. The magazine has published such celebrated writers as Roy Blount Jr., Clyde Edgerton, Daniel Wallace, Allison Glock, Donna Tartt, Kim Severson, Jessica B. Harris and the late Randall Kenan.

With its success, the magazine’s memorable title has evolved into a brand that includes a restaurant — The Garden & Gun Club in Atlanta — and Fieldshop, a store featuring items inspired by the magazine. The award-winning publication and media company also have published five books including Southern WomenThe Southerner’s Cookbook and The Southerner’s Handbook and have produced a “wildly successful” trivia game called “Bless Your Heart.”

Numerous popular events have also spun off of the brand, including an annual Keeneland Cocktail Brunch before the races in Kentucky, fly-fishing trips for women in Cashiers, North Carolina, and artist-in-residence programs.

After UNC, Darwin originally considered law school but headed to New York City. She attended the Tobé-Coburn School for Fashion Careers for a year, then interned at GQ magazine and was later hired in promotions. In 1985, Darwin was named vice president and publisher of The New Yorker — the first woman in that role. From there, she served as publisher of the now-defunct Mirabella and later as marketing director of Fortune magazine.

She and her family moved to Charleston in 2004 after her husband, Texas native Cress Darwin, graduated from the Princeton Theological Seminary and became senior pastor at Second Presbyterian Church of Charleston. The two met at a Super Bowl party in New York and have two daughters.

Darwin was a founding member of the advisory board for the Institute for the Arts and Humanities and continues to serve on that board. She was the recipient of the General Alumni Association’s Distinguished Young Alumni Award in 1989, the year the award was established.

She was inducted into the North Carolina Media & Journalism Hall of Fame on April 9 in a virtual ceremony.

“I’m very proud of being a UNC graduate,” Darwin said. “Not only do I feel that I got a strong education, but it opened the world up for me.”

These days, Darwin takes great pride in watching Garden & Gun flourish. Indeed, there is a certain satisfaction in giving the South a more prominent spotlight compared to the famously myopic New Yorker cartoon that depicted a map with Manhattan encompassing most of the world.

“I’m proud of the product that we have created and how it is a metaphor for the South — its land, people and their heritage.”

By Pamela Babcock