Cultural magazine introduced for `forgotten' middle-class blacks

Gary A. Puckrein talks day and night about the ``new Afro-American,'' the black with the bulging income, the middle-class attitude, the black American nobody knows. He has carried his soapbox to the offices of corporations and foundations, to affluent black people, and to discerning American readers.

Dr. Puckrein is acting as salesman and advocate for an embryo venture, American Visions, ``The Magazine of Afro-American Culture.'' He is publisher and editor in chief of this magazine, designed to appeal to the tastes of the more-affluent black people and the inquisitive American public.

``Our challenge is twofold,'' Puckrein says. ``We want Americans to subscribe to a new concept in publications about black people. We know that earlier attempts to produce such periodicals have not appealed to a large readership. They have not generated the necessary advertising revenue.''

American Visions, with a 1.5 million press run, hit the newsstands of the nation's capital in early December with a first issue dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

For Puckrein, this issue is the culmination of four years of creating, planning, soliciting, researching, and promoting.

``I walked the corridors,'' he says. ``I talked to corporate officers. I knocked on the foundation doors. More often, I walked out the way I walked in -- with no money. But donors have come through. . . .''

Launching New Visions has been difficult, he says. The words ``not for profit'' make this project almost impossible to sell to donors or contributors, he says.

``We see ourselves as filling a niche -- providing an intellectual magazine of Afro-American culture,'' he says. ``Nothing like it is on the market.''

This venture has created a new life style for Puckrein, a tenured faculty member in history at Rutgers University. He is on leave for his second year as a fellow with the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

American Visions is modeled after the successful Smithsonian magazine, he says. ``We are mailing complimentary copies of our first edition to people throughout the nation. . . . We hope enough of them will subscribe to give us a strong circulation base'' to gain advertisers.

This magazine, at $3 a copy, will come out bimonthly. It has been financed for its first year with $250,000 from the Smithsonian Institution and a $100,000 interest-free loan from Rutgers. The Phillip Graham Fund of the Washington Post has pledged support, he says. Donations and grants complete the outlay, Puckrein says, adding, ``We are still fund-raising.''

The introductory edition generated $600,000 in advertising, he says. ``Most of this revenue is being spent in promoting the magazine,'' says Puckrein. ``We want to spend any surplus for the study and support of Afro-American culture.''

To attract ad revenue for the first edition, advertising director Cecil Forster conducted an accelerated 60-day campaign from New York City and Washington. ``We received good response from corporations and organizations that support black institutions such as the National Urban League, the United Negro College Fund, and others,'' Mr. Forster said.

The next issue of American Visions is scheduled for March, with bimonthly publication starting after that. With its March issue, the magazine will assume its regular format, with sections on drama, music, books, and other cultural activities, Puckrein says.

It will include articles on black jazz expatriates of Paris, the slavery culture of South Carolina and Georgia, the black museum ``explosion'' nationwide, and how freed black people raised money to commission a statue of Abraham Lincoln and an emancipated slave that still stands in Washington's Lincoln Park.

``Many people tell me the nation's reading audience isn't ready for a magazine like this one,'' Puckrein says. ``Several have been tried, but none have succeeded. The most successful was Black World. It folded four years ago, although it was published by Johnson Publishing Company of Chicago, the nation's largest black business. They publish Ebony and Jet, our most successful magazines.''

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