Eli & Lucy Flam
at the Baltimore Book Festival

U S I A  A L U M N I
Life After Service in Public Diplomacy

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Photo of the Flams
                                                         Photo by Del Marbrook
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Editor/Publisher of Potomac Review

Spurred by the legacy of President Kennedy and Edward R. Murrow, I joined USIA as a Foreign Service Officer in 1964. By 1988, when I took early retirement to return to journalistic pursuits, I had served as Press/Cultural/Public Affairs Officer in Caracas, Barbados/Eastern Caribbean, Buenos Aires, Moscow and Madrid, plus director of the USSR and American Republics division at VOA and, in a final assignment, deputy director of worldwide book, English-teaching and binational center programs.

I had grown up in New York City but Washington, D.C., was home -- until my wife and I, children grown, moved to Port Tobacco, a rural redoubt in Southern Maryland. Freelancing as a writer/editor led to running a local weekly newspaper (the late News Merchandiser), serializing a novel (Alex & the Eagle) in the New Bay Times and -- in September 1995 -- taking over Potomac Review, a nascent literary quarterly with under 40 paid subscriptions.

The first issue, done on the run with an "exclusive" feature on new Maryland poet laureate Roland Flint, surfaced with a couple of embarrassing typos, and we've had a glitch or two since. But the good news is that we've won a growing, loyal readership (the press run is up to 1,500, most of that in paid subscriptions and bookstore sales); the magazine itself has almost doubled to 128 pages with the spring issue; and, with almost all volunteer help, we've garnered enough grant and donor support to take a bead on the next level -- a budget that will pay for all submissions and at least one half-time staffer.

In the meantime, a number of fellow USIA retirees have contributed to what one reader calls "a challenging diversity" of prose (fiction & non-fiction), poetry and black & white graphic art. Fred Quinn, Yal Richmond, and Bob Amerson were early byliners, followed by David Mel Paul, Zyg Nagorski, and Dabney Chapman. We've reviewed books by Philomena Jurey of VOA and, in the spring issue, Henry Catto's Ambassadors at Sea, by David Nalle, whose wife, Peggy Nalle, has also been a reviewer.

Annual fiction/poetry contests bring out both unpublished writers and authors with significant credits. They boost the normal flow of dozens of weekly submissions from across the United States, with a sprinkling from abroad.

Though regionally rooted, Potomac Review has an international range, striving to "take the measure of both topography and inner terrain." To keep matters moving forward on all fronts makes for a full-time-plus job, underpinned by my wife, Lucy, on the business end and come envelope-stuffing time every three months. (She's a VOA broadcaster/supervisor retiree herself.) And then there's the quarterly distribution dance from Bay Books in Southern Maryland through Washington, D.C., to Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and as far as Boulder, Colorado, plus a round of public appearances, from readings to getting with groups from the Rappatomac Writers in Virginia's Northern Neck to Tri-State Writers Guild up the Potomac in Cumberland.

So far Potomac Review has almost doubled the average life (three years) of a literary magazine. How long it lasts and how far it goes is up to those putting it out -- and with this work there is no mandatory retirement age.

To get a look at Potomac Review try our Web site. Information about sample copies and subscription is available there or via email at elilu@juno.com. USIA connected submitters are always welcome, too!

The average life of a literary magazine -- we're nonprofit, like most of the well over 600 hard-copy brethren across the land, not counting e-zines -- is three years. But even though we're well into a sixth year we're far from out of the woods. On the contrary, each issue carries us further into the search for stories, poems and artwork that explore and reflect the human experience and life around us. In a way, it's like being a Branch Public Affairs Officer, only back home -- and no mandatory re-retirement age. So it has to be rewarding, right? At "the quarterly with a conscience" -- and a lurking sense of humor.


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