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Author Jeff Newberry Entertains Audience With Reading Of His Work

Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO

For poet Jeff Newberry, a recent presentation for the University of West Florida’s Visiting Writers and Scholars Series was a homecoming, of sorts.

The writer and college professor earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UWF. Between readings, Newberry chatted with the crowd, which included former peers and instructors from his graduate and undergraduate days.
“I owe a great deal to UWF,” Newberry said. “I had really good professors who believed in me, even before I fully trusted my own judgment. That is an incredibly valuable thing. They spent time with me. They wrote letters for me. They helped me find a job.”

A self-described “triple genre threat,” Newberry read a creative nonfiction essay about fathers’ wisdom and a prose excerpt from his current novel, in addition to his poems during a recent presentation.
The informal gathering started when David Baulch, a UWF associate professor with the English department, which sponsored the program, introduced Newberry to the crowd of about 45 people. They came to hear Newberry read from his own work and glean tips about writing.

“Jeff is the kind of writer that makes observations that turn very slowly and artistically,” Baulch said. “He sees the details that others miss.”

Newberry, who graduated from UWF in 2000 and earned a doctoral degree from the University of Georgia, is now the poet in residence at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton. Georgia, where he teaches composition, literature and creative writing and serves as the faculty advisor for the school’s literary magazine, Pegasus.

Because he is interested in place, specifically the Florida’s Gulf Coast, as well as ecology and the impact of global warming on certain ways of life in the coastal south, Newberry’s poems are steeped in the wakes of bays, the movement of boats, the rituals of fishing, the scent of mills and specific locales such as Port St. Joe, Destin and Panama City.

“The adage about write what you know gets changed as you go through the writing process,” Newberry said. “It’s affected by linguistics, the music of the line. What you know also exists in real places.”

He is the author of “Brackish” (Aldrich Press), “A Visible Sign” (Finishing Line) and the co-editor with Brent House of “The Gulf Stream: Poems of the Gulf Coast.” Publications such as Birmingham Poetry Review, The Florida Review, Crab Orchard Review Chattahoochee Review and Florida Literature and Art have featured his pieces. His work has garnered two nomination for the Pushcart Prize, and he conducts workshops at numerous regional and national workshops.

“Believe in your work or no one else will,” Newberry said to aspiring writers in the audience. “Do not give up… writing is a lonely business, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely life.”

This article is part of a collaboration between WUWF and the UWF Center for Research and Economic Opportunity.