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Communication & Media

News & Events

Famous sportswriter named journalism professor

10/30/2003

NEW PALTZ -- Author Roger Kahn, who is often described as the best sportswriter in America, has been named the fourth James H. Ottaway Sr. journalism professor at SUNY New Paltz.

In making the announcement, college President Steven G. Poskanzer described Kahn as ?a national treasure,? citing especially Kahn's 1972 book, The Boys of Summer, which captured the imagination of the nation when it was published.

Said Poskanzer, ?I still have my own dog-eared copy of the book,? which has sold nearly three million copies and is in its 65th printing. The book recounts Kahn's early years as a sports reporter in New York City and his nostalgic visits with some of the famous Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s, including baseball players Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider. Kahn will teach a special course next spring called ?Beyond the Boys of Summer.? In it he will discuss the process he has employed ? from choosing topics, to researching his subjects, to writing the prose that novelist James Michener has described as having "high moral purpose and great poetic accomplishment.?

Kahn is the author of 17 nonfiction books, two novels, and hundreds of articles in national magazines such as Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Time and the now-defunct Saturday Evening Post. His most recent book is entitled October Men: How The 1978 Yankees Fought Themselves and Won a World Championship. The 1978 Yankees were well known for the internal strife between New York legends Billy Martin, the manager, and Reggie Jackson, the Hall of Fame right fielder.

On becoming the Ottaway professor Kahn said: ?One of the finer journalistic traditions has been for one generation to guide those that follow. Harold Rosenthal of the Herald Tribune taught me how to tip on the baseball beat. Red Smith reminded me that no matter how dramatic a ball game seemed to be it was not a battle of Titans. John Lardner suggested that putting some humor in your stuff was a benediction.?

?While occupying the Ottaway Chair,? he added, ?I hope to pass on to another generation as much as possible of what I have learned in 50 years of walking the back alleys and the main streets of journalism.?

Patricia Sullivan, chair of the Communication and Media Department, noted that although mostly known as a sportswriter, ?Kahn's body of work deals as much with culture and humanity as with sports. For him, sports are a metaphor to look at people,? she said. Kahn follows a distinguished list of Ottaway professors at the college. Two Pulitzer Prize winners ? Sydney Schanberg and Bernard Stein ? and award-winning broadcaster Ann Cooper preceded Kahn. Poskanzer emphasized that Kahn will be another ?wonderful resource and teacher? for the college's students, a journalist who offers credentials very different from his predecessors in some respects, ?but equally distinguished and characterized by the same fierce commitment to pursue the truth about our culture and lives.?

The James H. Ottaway Sr. Professorship is named for the founder of Ottaway Newspapers Inc. of Campbell Hall, N.Y., now a coast-to-coast group of 13 daily, 11 Sunday and more than 30 weekly newspapers with a total circulation of 387,224. Its flagship newspaper is The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y.

The donation to create the professorship was made by his son, James Ottaway Jr., who succeeded his father as the company's chief executive officer in 1976 and who retired last year. James Ottaway Sr. died in January 2000 at the age of 88. Ottaway Sr. was a founder of the American Press Institute, an industry education center in Reston, Va., and received its first lifetime achievement award in 1996.

Ottaway said he was ?delighted? by the selection of Kahn. ?I particularly like a great sportswriter teaching students the importance of sports writing as an important part of American journalism, an important part of every American newspaper."

Kahn, who is 76 years old, grew up in Brooklyn where he idolized the Brooklyn Dodgers. He joined the New York Herald Tribune as a copy boy in 1948 and rose quickly to become a sports writer. He began to write about the Dodgers in 1952, but also wrote about the other New York teams, the Giants and the Yankees. At the age of 26 he was the newspaper's "star" sports reporter, making a salary of $10,000 In 1956 Kahn was named sports editor at Newsweek magazine and then from 1963 to 1969 became editor at large at the Saturday Evening Post. For a decade he wrote features for Esquire magazine. Five times his articles were voted the best in the country.

In 1972 he wrote The Boys of Summer, which became not only a best seller but a phrase that is used hundreds of times by other writers during the baseball season. Some of Kahn's other books include a biography of Jack Dempsey, a memoir of the season he owned a minor league baseball team, a history of a student uprising at Columbia University, and a recollection of the era when the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants ruled the world.

Kahn has taught writing at various colleges and lectured at Yale, Princeton, and Columbia universities. He lives in Stone Ridge, N.Y., with his wife, Katherine Johnson.

Note to editors: A photograph of Roger Kahn may be downloaded from the SUNY New Paltz Web site at www.newpaltz.edu/news/images/kahn.html.

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