The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Earl A. Birkett, Editor & Publisher
“Given the divisive and misinformed times in which we live, Bavual just seemed like the right concept for this time.” Earl A. Birkett, Editor & Publisher, Bavual magazine
“Bavual is a forceful and clear reteller of history from the Afrocentric viewpoint, and explainer of how that heritage interplays with today’s world. My belief is that knowledge is gained through understanding, and understanding is gained through truth.” E.A.B.
Not too many times do I find myself at a loss of words when I am interviewing an editor or a publisher about his or her magazine. But after hearing Earl A. Birkett’s story, I was indeed at a loss of words. His passion to magazines and magazine media is evident in the way he talks about the magazine and on every page of the magazine that will hit the newsstands nationwide shortly.
Bavual is a powerful forceful magazine with a very lucid focus. The timing can’t be any better, yet the content is timeless. Bavual and the man behind the magazine are both a force to reckon with. This is their story as told in this Mr. Magazine™ Q and A.
Eleven years ago, Mr. Birkett fell critically ill and lost both his legs and kidneys. He told me that he “narrowly survived, thanks to the grace of God and excellent medical treatment. Coming so close to my Maker forced me to re-arrange my priorities and concentrate on leaving a legacy for good. Part of that legacy, I hope, is Bavual.”
And thus the interview is about both Bavual and Mr. Birkett and the legacy that they are creating. So, without any further delay, here is the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Earl A. Birkett, editor and publisher of Bavual. Enjoy.
Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: Congratulations on the launch of Bavual. My first question is, “what Bavual, the magazine, is and what does the name mean?
Earl A. Birkett: “Bavual” is a popular name for a male child in many parts of Africa. The name is Swahili for “power, strength, force.” The fictional character I concocted to stand as the magazine’s muse is Bavual Adisa, a perpetual 25 year old from Tanzania but who could live anywhere on Earth. His last name is Yoruba for “one who is clear, or lucid.” Those two names adequately describe what Bavual is: a forceful and clear reteller of history from the Afrocentric viewpoint, and explainer of how that heritage interplays with today’s world. My belief is that knowledge is gained through understanding, and understanding is gained through truth.
S.H.: Tell me a little bit about your background and why did you decide to make the move to print after working for years with Time Warner?
E.A.B.: Actually, my background with Time Warner is limited and long ago. I worked in their cable tv division as a salesman in New York’s Outer Boroughs back in the late 80s and early 90s. It started out as a way to supplement my meager income as a high school social studies teacher and surprisingly grew into a lucrative affair for me. After the stint at Time Warner I continued in the business world, eventually becoming a real estate broker.
I have been in love with the magazine publishing business since I was eight years old; I have been a student of the industry ever since. Until now I never quite found the right moment to jump in as a publisher. Given the divisive and misinformed times in which we live, Bavual just seemed like the right concept for this time.
S.H.: You seem very passionate about this project, yet we know with passion alone success could not be achieved. What is your plan for success for this new venture?
E.A.B.: It’s true, I am very passionate about Bavual, it is almost a calling for me. Fortunately for me, I am not alone in this feeling. For whatever reason, divine intervention, luck or what have you, I have been able to assemble an editorial staff of nine very talented and dedicated people to help me in this quest. They come from both genders, several races, from diverse regions of the U.S. – including from some places you would not normally think would be attracted to a magazine like Bavual – and even one from India.
Due to financial limitations, I cannot grow Bavual ‘s circulation as fast as I would like, so I have opted to build an audience the old-fashioned way: make each issue a masterpiece and put it before the public online, in retail outlets and in mailboxes, and let them vote yay or nay. If you build it they will come, right?
S.H.: In the midst of hundreds of magazine titles out there, where do you see Bavual fitting and whom do you view as its competitive set?
Ever since the demise of Ebony and Jet (in print) about a decade ago, Bavual is completely alone in the consumer magazine category that caters to the Afrocentric lifestyle. Essence fits only a portion of this market. As for magazines that focus on African heritage, it has been many more decades since. Its closest editorial descendant is a magazine called Encore that was published in the 70s by Ida Lewis, which covered Afrocentric news. I remember it from my teenage years and was captivated by it.
Bavual is designed to be a feast for the eyes and the mind, a reminder of what the great picture magazines like Life and Look were like combined with the relevance of, say, The Atlantic or The New Yorker.
S.H.: Who is the audience of this feast for the eyes and mind?
E.A.B.: Contrary to its name and focus, Bavual is not a “black” magazine, that is, published by black people for black people. It is inclusive, meaning that it is produced by a multicultural, international staff for ANYONE who wants to know the truth about the world’s past from one point of view, in this case, the Afrocentric one, warts and all, and how it relates to the present.
S.H.: What has been the most difficult challenge so far and how did you overcome it? What was the most pleasant surprise so far?
E.A.B.: The most difficult challenge was putting out both a Preview Issue last fall and the Premier Issue this winter. Like I said, we had to work on a shoestring, but you know what? We did it, and I think we did it very well.
The biggest surprise thus far is the broad appeal of Bavual. We have been picked up by retail outlets on the West Coast, the Midwestern heartland and the Southern Bible Belt. The biggest fun is finding out who reads us.
S.H.: Before I ask you my typical last question, is there anything you’d like to add?
I don’t often like to talk about myself, but I think it important in this instance. There is one other motivating factor for starting Bavual, besides the obvious one of wanting to contribute to the public dialogue on race right now, and that is my health. Eleven years ago I fell critically ill, the victim of an unknown disease that is vaguely traced to complications from diabetes. I narrowly survived, thanks to the grace of God and excellent medical treatment, however it cost me both my legs (amputated below the knee) and my kidneys, which are failing (I am on dialysis), and a reduced energy level. Coming so close to my Maker forced me to re-arrange my priorities and concentrate on leaving a legacy for good. Part of that legacy, I hope, is Bavual. I also want to convey to people that having a disability is not the end of the world. I may not have a great body but I still have a great mind, thank God.
S.H.: Amen to that. My typical last question is what keeps you up at night these days?
E.A.B.: I think about the state of the world a lot, particularly the state of the most powerful country in the world, my homeland, the U.S.A. It pains me that a country that has been so good to me in so many ways has decided in many cases to travel down the road of ignorance, intolerance and selfishness. I am constantly reminded that good does not necessarily triumph over evil without constant vigilance.
S.H.: Thank you and all the best in this new venture.