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Spring 2009
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Baylor Alumni

Flight of the Phoenix

Baylor English students celebrate fiftieth anniversary of magazine
By Claire Moncla

From the remnants of childhood ambition, from seven drafts of a short story, from the scrawled and marked-through copies of a poem—it is from these raw materials that the Phoenix has arisen and will continue to rise.” These words, written by Beth Drake Williamson ’62 in the 1962 foreword of the fourth-annual issue of the Phoenix, encapsulate the meaning behind the title of Baylor’s fine arts student publication.

Gorman Beauchamp ’61 and James Allsup ’59, then Baylor sophomore and senior roommates, hatched the idea of the Phoenix in 1959. “We just wanted a place to publish our work,” Beauchamp admitted.

But getting a student publication off the ground was more than a two-person job. The first issue of the Phoenix required the aid of a variety of students, including staff members Charlotte Winburn MacArthur ’60, John Via ’59, Gresham Riley ’60, Claire Worrell Haslam ’59, and Janis Schubert Davis Lopez ’59. “It was very much a group endeavor,” Allsup said.

The name “phoenix” held meaning for the magazine’s founders. “We had heard that a previous effort to start a magazine had failed,” Allsup said. Choosing a mythological bird that rises from the ashes was a statement that, although past attempts did not succeed, the magazine could be reborn.

A product of the Department of English, the student magazine has partnered with Baylor since its inception, garnering funding from the university itself and advertising from the Lariat, said Via, cover designer of the first issue. From the beginning, he said, “It was pretty warmly received.”

Making a statement about the quality of Baylor students’ work, that first issue—which included twenty-three poems and short stories—featured two poems by graduate student Andrew Oerke ’60 that had been previously published in the New Yorker. Oerke is now an established poet who has published five books of poetry and is the subject of an upcoming book by Allsup.

Going back to its roots, this year’s fiftieth-anniversary issue of the Phoenix has a classic look with a simple cover and a strictly black-and-white theme. Despite the vintage appearance, the publication itself is innovative, bringing together quality and quantity. “We’ve had one of the largest number of submissions in a long time,” said Samuel Mathis ’09, who served as 2009 student editor of the Phoenix.

This year’s publication had the potential of being very large, with almost two hundred submissions, but the staff selected only thirty-six works for inclusion. “Since this was the fiftieth issue, we wanted to publish only the best,” said Mathis (pictured with faculty advisor Dr. Coretta Pittman).

The staff was crucial to the success of this year’s Phoenix, said Dr. Coretta Pittman, faculty advisor. “We had some excited students, and they changed the way we got information out about submission,” Pittman said. She listed frequent staff meetings and effective advertising as the key ingredients in this year’s success.  

Since those early days of Beauchamp and Allsup, the Phoenix has gone through many rebirths. In the pioneering 1960s, the Phoenix was still continuing to evolve. Two major changes were the inclusion of artwork in 1964 and cash awards for each category in 1967.

The late 1970s and early 1980s saw a change in focus for the publication. Its title changed to “the creative writing anthology,” only including literary pieces and eliminating awards. In 1982, the staff reintroduced artwork and photography, returning the publication to a fine arts magazine. In 1993, the magazine changed again, upgrading to color printing on the inside pages. Today, the magazine includes poetry, prose, short stories, and artwork.

Through all its transformations, the Phoenix has remained “a magazine that highlights some of the amazing student writers and artists from Baylor in a fashion that upholds the Baylor University standard of excellence,” according to recent editor Mathis. “Giving students a chance to have their work published is one of the greatest rewards,” he said.

Click here to read selections from the 2009 Phoenix.

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