When I graduated from college with a secondary school English teaching certificate, I never imagined I would someday be responsible for a school publication. I had been a staff writer for my college’s underground magazine but knew nothing about layout and design. I was assigned this position because I was blessed with the school’s creative writing class. The journalism and yearbook advisers at my school always appeared flushed, exhausted, overwhelmed, and stressed. Going to them for advice was often not productive because deadlines always loomed in the air like impending bad luck. How in the world was I to ever learn how to make a literary/art magazine?
When I started, I had a few older copies of the school’s literary/art magazine. The text was printed on Microsoft Word and photographs and artwork in high contrast black and white were often dropped at the bottom of the text. We sent our files to a local copy center where they were xeroxed, and then we purchased comb binders through the county and borrowed the secretary’s binder and assembled the magazines ourselves. Our most prideful contribution: a cover in colored card stock! Boring but every year a slight improvement of the one before.
A colleague urged me to join journalism organizations such as JEA and VAJTA. Although I wasn’t a newspaper or yearbook adviser, she encouraged me to attend workshops and conventions because “sometimes they have sessions for magazine.” My first adviser conference was held at the USA Today building. Traveling to DC by myself, navigating through traffic, and meandering through the huge building were both frightening and impressive. I attended a workshop on magazine design. The instructor, Beth Fitts, a gentile Southern lady from Ole Miss, knowledgeable in areas of media and design, led the workshop.
I met other literary/art magazine advisers dealing with the same issue as I had. We, in turn, met advisers who shared beautiful magazines. Magazines in color! Magazines that “bled off the pages and ran through the gutters!” Magazines put together with something called Perfect Binding! Magazines that used complicated, industry standard software programs like InDesign and Photoshop!
I left the conference full of ideas, new terminology, and skills in basic design. I returned to school eager to share my experience with my principal and anxious to show all the things I’d learned with my students.
I make an effort to attend at least one convention a year with my staff. Although I may be familiar with some of the writing strands, a new group of editors learns a lot they never knew and come back invigorated and anxious to design; to make our magazine better than the year before. Each year, we send our publication off for critique and whether we win or lose, the fun we gain from creating or own designs and learning new things are worth more than any medal.