Journalist, Author, Playwright: Paula Kamen holds many titles

Paula Kamenwrote columns for The Daily Illini and even became Features Editor during her time. After her time with Illini Media, Kamen wrote the book “All In My Head and a play called “Jane.

Photo courtesy of Paula Kamen

Paula Kamen’wrote columns for The Daily Illini and even became Features Editor during her time. After her time with Illini Media, Kamen wrote the book “All In My Head” and a play called “Jane.”

By Gwyn Skiles, Managing Editor for Reporting

Paula Kamen stepped into an abortion crisis center with her ears sharply focused on the conversations around her.

She was undercover, posing as someone that needed advice on how to help her friend that was pregnant. The people working the clinic told her that if her friend got an abortion, she would get cancer or never be able to have babies in the future.

Knowing they were spreading false information, her heart beat fast as she rushed to publish her investigation in The Daily Illini.

Kamen didn’t know at the time, but The Daily Illini was just the starting point for the long career ahead of her. She went on to write some of the first Gen X books about feminism and freelanced for Ms. Magazine, a publication that addresses the concerns of women.

Kamen said her work at The Daily Illini was instrumental to developing her voice and fueling her feminist fire.

“(Writing columns) was sort of life changing,” Kamen said. “When you state your opinion, you’re offending people often and especially as a woman, you’re not socialized to do that. So I learned about being brave to state your opinion and fight for what you believe in.”

In her senior year, she wrote a humor column about living in the dorms with a roommate that has an active sex life which she said was risqué at the time. However, she said people loved the columns and taped them to their walls.

Kamen said she was always in awe of her colleagues at The Daily Illini. The air in the newsroom was always spinning with intensity and passion.

“I think everyone there lifted me up so much that I did work my senior year that I never thought I was capable of,” Kamen said. “Everyone was so talented that the bar was so high. When I left I was so sad because I had a feeling I’d never have a group of coworkers like that again and I was actually right.”

Kamen said she admired one of her writers in particular when she was Features Editor.

Iris Chang, the author of “The Rape of Nanking,” was a friend of Kamen’s. When they were students at the University, Kamen said Chang was the one to beat; she had all the internships, awards and opportunities that everyone at The Daily Illini wanted.

“She just called the New York Times and asked if they needed a correspondent from Champaign,” Kamen said.“They were like ‘OK’ and then she started contributing stories to them.”

While Kamen said she was jealous of Chang during their undergraduate years, after graduation, the two became friends.

Kamen said Chang taught her what it means to be ambitious. But she said it also taught her that society can be critical of women for building their careers.

When Kamen gives advice to young adults pursuing careers, she remembers her friend’s gusto and says to ‘Iris Chang it.’

Kamen’s book, “Finding Iris Chang,” talks about their friendship and Chang’s death. When working on it, Kamen had a difficult time.

Mental health was something Kamen noticed wasn’t taught about at the University. For journalists, Kamen said it can be especially difficult to stay healthy when covering such intense subjects.

“There were times when I was afraid I would snap because (Iris’s death) was so dark,” Kamen said. “It’s important to still write about tough topics — you just have to do basic self protection. In journalism school, we never talked about your mental health or self preservation.”

Kamen’s husband, David Beazley, said he does his best to support Kamen. She suffers from chronic headaches which Beazley said are tough on her.

“(Her chronic pain) is something that features prominently in day-to-day existence,” Beazley said. “Her strength is remarkable. The projects she works on even with (the pain) going on is really amazing.”

Her headaches were the subject of Kamen’s book, “All In My Head,” which dived into the remedies she and many others seek to relieve their pain.

Beazley said he admires Kamen for her remarkable strength and intellect. He said her sensibility and seriousness showed the first time they met and he knew from the beginning Kamen was the one.

Beazley said that Kamen is a wonderful mom to their two sons and their dog, a bernedoodle named Mayble. 

“I think she’s way more lax on the rules,” Beazley said. “We got a COVID-19 puppy and I’m pretty strict with it. I don’t want it chewing up recycling. And sometimes I’ll go downstairs and see Paula with the dog just happily chewing up the recycling. And Paula’s just like ‘it’s okay she likes it.’”

Beazley said he’s excited for his future with Kamen. Beazley said it feels like time has flown by so fast, especially when he thinks about their son entering high school next year.

Beazley said he’s also excited to witness the future of Kamen’s career. She’s starting to explore playwriting and Beazley said he can’t wait until he sees one of her shows make it big.

Kamen wrote a play, “Jane”, about an underground abortion service that was in Chicago during the ’60s and ’70s that had a reading off-broadway a few years ago. She hopes to continue to build her playwriting career from there.

“There’s been a lot of ups and downs and lots of different challenges along the way,” Kamen said. “It’s a difficult journey but if you’re really passionate about it, it’s possible.”


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