by Fred Kuhr
Buff Carmichael, the former publisher of Springfield, Ill.-based Prairie Flame, passed away on March 21, 2021, after what has been described as a long battle with cancer. He was 73.
According to the Illinois Eagle, an online LGBTQ publication also based in Springfield, Carmichael founded the Prairie Flame in 1996. It was the first LGBTQ publication to serve downstate Illinois. It stopped publishing in 2008.
Carmichael was also a local activist, serving as co-chair of the 2013 March on Springfield for Marriage Equality and co-founder of the Coalition of Rainbow Alliances (CORAL) in Springfield, reported the Eagle.
Carmichael’s husband Jerry Bowman, who helped him with the newspaper, passed away in 2017.
Carmichael got the idea for Prairie Flame after sending a letter to the Windy City Times (WCT) in Chicago. In a 2020 interview with WCT he said, “I sent a letter to the Windy City Times asking them to what extent they covered the central Illinois area, and how we could access the paper locally. I sent a very similar letter to the St. Louis paper that was there at the time. The response I got was, ‘We cover our metropolitan area and go fuck yourself.’”
In the light of that, Carmichael reached out to local people who he thought could help him publish a newspaper, to no avail. He even tried his hand at producing a weekly LGBTQ public access cable show, but it ran at 1:30 in the morning and “nobody watched.”
Eventually he met someone who published a local literary newspaper and also had some computer savvy with publishing software. Carmichael ended up buying the software for himself, “Probably in the course of two nights, I put together the first issue,” he recalled to WCT. “It was pathetic.” But he was able to print 2,000 copies of the eight-page newspaper and distribute it.
The “big question” then was, “Would there be a second issue?” Indeed there was a second issue the following month, and he and Bowman, without pay, continued publishing for 12 years, reported WCT. In fact, the whole endeavor was a volunteer effort. “Once a year we would go to a really nice restaurant and Prairie Flame would buy dinner for all of our volunteers — that was the only pay they received,” Carmichael. He worked full-time for the state’s Department of Nuclear Safety at the time, spending most evenings writing for and compiling the paper, according to WCT.
Prairie Flame was a casualty of 2008’s Great Recession, he told WCT. “Every business starts cutting their advertising when things are tough,” recalled Carmichael. “Jerry and I were looking at getting to retirement and we couldn’t retire—our money went to keeping the Flame alive. We reached the month when the advertising couldn’t cover the printing bill. And there were things besides the printing bill we had to pay, like the utilities and rent. We said it was time to stop.”
The Celebration of Life for Carmichael is planned for July 3. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Fifth Street Renaissance SARA Center, 1315 N. 5th Street, Springfield, IL 62702 or Acorn Equality Fund, P.O. Box 6286, Peoria, IL 61601.
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