AND THEN I WROTE: The improbable story of how I started writing—and haven’t stoppedBy Joan Kron
“I had to get permission from my lawyer to go to a party last week.” That was the first line of my first published article. The story ran in Philadelphia magazine in November 1969, which makes November 2009 the 40th anniversary of my career in journalism. Not that exceptional, you say, except in 1969 I was 41 years old. (Short pause while you do the math.) Until then, I had never written anything but letters—unless you count a sci-fi fable published in a Long-Island newspaper when I was nine.
For most people, 1969 stands for Woodstock, Hair, Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, Chappaquiddick, Gay Rights, and sit-ins. For me, those events were all background to a painful period in my personal life. The previous summer, my husband, a general surgeon, was on a humanitarian medical mission in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). I went along with our two children. A month into the trip our 16-year-old daughter developed a virulent sinus infection and was dead in four days.
Back home in Philadelphia, besides dealing with grief and guilt, my marriage was unraveling—not unusual when a child dies. And I was jobless—if a decade as a volunteer in an avant-garde, cultural organization counts as a job. (Despite the impression you get from Mad Men, wives did work in the 50s and 60s.) The year before, I had stepped down as chairman of a local Arts Council when the board of the parent institution refused my request for a desk and a phone. They told me, quite seriously, desks and phones were only for paid workers. So (with a nod to Betty Friedan), I quit.
It seemed too late to resume the career I trained for at the Yale School of Drama—theatrical costume design. I was beyond making organdy neck ruffs for Clarabell on Howdy Doody and breakaway suits for Milton Berle—my job at NBC-TV before I left to get married. And much as I enjoyed my second career—interior design—I couldn’t quite figure out how to stop losing money at it. I was floundering.I made neck ruffs for Clarabell
Then came the phone call that changed my life. Not long out of Penn and itching to take on the establishment, Jon Takiff and two other alums, Lee Eisenberg, and Bill Mandel, had a proposition for me. Could they drop by? We sat in my mod, black-and-white living room. They explained they were starting an underground newspaper and they wanted me to be the society editor, because, from their vantage point—I knew everyone in society and everyone in the underground.(continued)