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An Autobiography of a Chicago Journalist
In some ways, Kenan Heise’s story of his life in journalism is a chronicle of how newspapers changed from the 1960s to the early part of this century – before the onset of the intensely self-focused social media. Called to the priesthood, Mr. Heise spent several years in the Franciscan order of monks, who encouraged him to leave when it was discovered he was epileptic.
Back home in Detroit in the late 1950s, this child of the Great Depression lived simply as a leader with the Young Christian Workers, recruiting members and promoting a civil rights agenda. In 1963, Mr. Heise writes, “I then did a kind thing for the Detroit YCW and its fifteen parish sections – I left the city for Chicago. Other, more natural leaders took my place.”
In looking for a job in Chicago, Mr. Heise recounts, “I potentially had to face the following daunting questions: Who would be interested in giving a meaningful job to a person with gran mal epilepsy? (Certainly, the Franciscans had not been). What value did a degree afford if it were in scholastic philosophy (taught in Latin) from a non-accredited college? … And what was the pay scale in your most recent job? (‘Eight dollars a week.’)”
Mr. Heise’s landing in Chicago was a boon – not only for his career but for the millions who read his books, received help through his Action Line columns in the Chicago Tribune and other papers, were touched by the Tribune’s “Neighborhood Dialogue” column or gave or received through the Tribune’s Neediest Children’s Fund, which continues today. For 36 years, Mr. Heise was the voice of the poor, the disenfranchised, the voiceless. He retired in 1999.
His final spot with the Tribune was as the chief writer of obituaries. “To me the obituary page should not be a scorecard, where you scratch off those who have died and mention some of their accomplishments” Mr. Heise writes. “Rather it is a place in a newspaper where you use the deaths of people as a time to tell their stories.”
There is some humor in this book, but it is for the most part the earnest narrative of a man who looked for and found his place in the world, but at his own slow and thoughtful pace, mindful of a moral imperative that although the poor, the disabled and the disenfranchised may seem voiceless, they have dignity and they have their own stories to tell.
A multiple award-winner, Mr. Heise is a member of the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame and has written or collaborated on more than 25 books. He and his wife, Carol – an attorney who represented people on death row – live in Evanston. “He Writes About Us” is published by Marion Street Press and is available at Amazon.com.