Journalist, Author, Playwright: Paula Kamen holds many titles

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

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

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

Kamen didn’t know it at the time, but The Daily Illini was just the start of the long career that awaited him. She went on to write some of Gen X’s first books on feminism and freelance for Ms. Magazine, a publication that responds to women’s concerns.

Kamen said her work at the Daily Illini helped develop her voice and fuel her feminist fire.

“(Writing columns) was kind of life changing,” Kamen said. “When you speak your mind you often offend people and especially as a woman you are not socialized to do so. So I have learned to be brave to speak your mind and stand up for what you believe in .

In her senior year, she wrote a humorous column about dorm life with a roommate who has an active sex life that she says was risky at the time. However, she said people liked the columns and stuck them to their walls.

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

“I think everyone there raised me so much that I worked my last year that I never thought I was capable of,” Kamen said. “Everyone was so talented the bar was set so high. When I left I was so sad because I felt like I would never have a group of co-workers like that again and I was actually right.

Kamen said she looked up to one of her writers especially when she was the editor.

Iris Chang, the author of “The Rape of Nanking”, was a friend of Kamen. When they were college students, Kamen said Chang was the one to beat; she had all the internships, awards, and opportunities that everyone at 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 bringing them stories.”

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

Kamen said Chang taught him what it means to be ambitious. But she said it also taught her that society can criticize women to build their careers.

When Kamen is giving advice to young adults pursuing a career, she remembers her friend’s enthusiasm and tells “Iris Chang it”.

Kamen’s book, “Finding Iris Chang”, is about their friendship and Chang’s death. While working there, Kamen went through a rough patch.

Kamen noticed that mental health was not taught at university. For journalists, Kamen said it can be especially difficult to stay healthy when covering such intense stories.

“There were times when I was afraid to crack because (Iris’s death) was so dark,” Kamen said. “It’s important to keep writing about difficult topics – you just need to protect yourself basic. In journalism school, we never talked about mental health or self-preservation.

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

“(Her chronic pain) is something that looms large in everyday existence,” Beazley said. “His strength is remarkable. The projects she’s even working on (the pain) are truly amazing.

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

Beazley said he admires Kamen for his remarkable strength and intellect. He said his sensitivity and seriousness showed the first time they met and he knew from the start that it was Kamen.

Beazley said Kamen was a wonderful mother to their two sons and their dog, a Bernedoodle named Mayble.

“I think she’s a lot more lax on the rules,” Beazley said. “We have a COVID-19 pup and I’m pretty strict with him. I don’t want it to mess up recycling. And sometimes I come downstairs and see Paula with the dog happily chewing on the recycling. And Paula is just like ‘it’s good, she likes it’.

Beazley said he was excited about his future with Kamen. Beazley said the time flew by so quickly, especially when he thought about their son who will be entering high school next year.

Beazley said he was also excited to see Kamen’s career future. She’s starting to explore playwriting, and Beazley said he can’t wait to see one of her shows become a big hit.

Kamen wrote a play, “Jane,” about a clandestine abortion service that ran in Chicago in the ’60s and ’70s and was read off-Broadway a few years ago. She hopes to continue building her career as a playwright from there.

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

[email protected]

Lola R. McClure