Staff of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College’s “Pegasus” smiles for a photo.
TIFTON, Ga. -- Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College English professor Jeff Newberry carefully guards against presenting an "us vs. them" front as co-adviser of "Pegasus," the college's well-received literary magazine.
He does, after all, teach at an institution where rodeos and tractor pulls are way more common than Shakespeare festivals.
"There are those who take the 'If you don't want to read my work, to hell with you' approach, but I don't want to be that person," Newberry said as he and co-adviser Sandra Giles discussed the publication with a visitor. "Our students know they walk a weird line between elitism and populism, and it's a very odd, minimal space."
The success of "Pegasus" is just one of the best-kept secrets at this 3,300-student former junior college that recently was granted State College status. Another is ABAC's English department itself, long lauded as one of the state's best on any level.
And members of that department are finding more and more students like "Pegasus" Managing Editor Matt McCullough who have the capacity to hold their own with top students at some of the country's more elite colleges and universities.
"Matt's brilliant," Newberry said of the Tifton sophomore. "He's read twice at the Gulf Coast Association of Creative Writing Teachers Conference, and he's sat on panels with graduate students and done quite well.
"I remember what it's like to be an undergraduate student; you have to keep a lot of plates spinning in that crazy lifestyle. Matt manages to do that at such a high level."
McCullough and "Pegasus" staff members such as Patrick Ireland, Mary Porter, Bailey Jacobs, Gretchen Elm, Alan Parks, Brook McKinney, Angelo Smith II, Austin Flanders, Shannon Guy and Corey Rogers have championed efforts to refine ABAC's literary magazine into a more accurate portrayal of their generation's artistic sensibilities.
"These students are redefining what our literary magazine can be," Giles said.
"Pegasus" has been around at ABAC for 39 years, a cultural beacon in a world of animal husbandry and ag sciences. Newberry, a poet who did his undergrad work at the University of West Florida and received his Ph.D. from the University of Georgia, and Giles, the hometown girl creative writer who studied at Valdosta State and earned her Ph.D. at Florida State University, were perfect choices to take over as co-advisers with the retirement of Newberry's mentor, Herbert Shippey.
"From a design standpoint, I think Matt and I share a similar vision," Newberry said. "Dr. Shippey liked to cram as much material onto a page as possible, to publish as many students as he could. We've moved away from cluttering up the pages ... we'll leave some white space.
"We believe every page deserves its own integrity."
McCullough, a Tiftarea Academy graduate who decided as a high school junior that he wanted to teach English, said he and other "Pegasus" staff editors are searching for a certain level of quality in each submission.
And since Giles and Newberry are equally adamant that the magazine be a "student-centered" publication, it's the students' choices to make.
"We've rejected quite a few submissions, but it has nothing to do with personal taste," McCullough said. "It has to do with quality. There's no measurable criteria when it comes to works of art; sometimes it comes down to that cliche of what we think is 'good.'
"But we do consider our audience. And we have several layers of consideration before we make a final decision. The staff just started meeting in groups, where we'll take 10 or 12 submissions in each category and read them together. Each person will grade them on a scale of 1-4, and then the submissions will go to the section editors for a separate reading and grading. Then they come to me for a final reading."
"Pegasus" accepts submissions of poetry, prose (fiction and nonfiction) and artwork from ABAC students, from high school students, from undergraduate students at other colleges, and from ABAC's faculty, staff and alumni. The call for submissions will go out in August. (Information is available at www.abac.edu/pegasus.)
Top submissions in each category are recognized at the college's George Scott Day, ABAC's annual springtime celebration of the arts.
Newberry, who -- while admittedly biased -- calls "Pegasus" the "best-looking undergraduate literary magazine in Georgia," said he'd like to see the publication afforded an even more prominent place on the Tifton campus.
"I'd like to see us launch a literary magazine contest for state colleges, and I'd like to see our website take on more of a life of its own," he said. "It's a lot to ask. The life of these students can be hectic, but they've proven themselves capable."
Of course, students like McCullough and others on the "Pegasus" staff are a little more difficult to find.
"Oh, they're out there," Giles said. "And since we now have higher admissions standards, we're finding more and more of them. We get the word out to the other English instructors, and we end up getting recommendations from them, we get students that we recruit and there are students that find us."
It helps when one of those students has the talent -- and goals -- of a Matt McCullough.
"This is a huge deal to me," the "Pegasus" editor said. "When I go to conferences and see our magazine alongside (works of) authors I've read before, it's a big deal. Of course, any time you see your name in print you get this fuzzy feeling, but having your publication compared favorably to other established publications is incredible.
"The staff is motivated to strive for the highest quality we can get. We have the utmost respect for (Newberry and Giles), and we don't want to embarrass them or the college."