The Reading List – and its quest for truth

Middle-weight boxer, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was in jail for shooting and killing three people at the Lafayette Bar & Grill in Paterson, New Jersey in June of 1966. Linda Kay wasn’t sure whether he was guilty or not, but as a rookie reporter she decided to find out.

Concordia Journalism Professor, Linda Kay is releasing a book called The Reading List, on November 21. The book is a detailed slice of her life and her quest for the truth.

“What is the truth? Whose truth is the truth? What do we know and what can we really know? This book is about my search for the truth,” said Linda Kay.

Linda Kay is a pioneering woman journalist, particularly in the field of sports. Her work as part of a team on The San Diego Evening Tribune helped win the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize in 1979. It was for coverage of the collision of a Pacific Southwest air liner with a small plane over its city. She was also the first female sportswriter for the Chicago Tribune.

It wasn’t always an easy job. According to Kay, when she approached baseball star Reggie Jackson for an interview, he said “I ain’t talking to no broads.”

Kay also had objects thrown at her when she entered a Chicago Bears dressing room.

The players weren’t the only ones unimpressed with her arrival. Her fellow male colleagues did not like the idea of a woman in their department. “I had people listen to my phone calls, go through my mail, it wasn’t always pleasant,” said Kay.

Her good experiences outweighed the bad though. Kay came across some amazing mentors such as her first sports editor at the San Diego Tribune, Joe Stein. The people she encountered along the way became pivotal figures in her life.

The Reading List is a memoir of moments that made her question things. Her meeting with famous author Nelson Algren, who wrote Man with the Golden Arm and Walk on the Wild Side brought up a major issue for Kay.

“Another theme in my book is the symbiosis between journalists and their sources, relationships that develop and the truth in those relationships,” said Kay. “Who’s telling whom what? Perhaps somebody’s telling you something because they want you to do something else or think something else.”

Paterson, New Jersey, where Kay first met up with Algren and Carter, was a town that dealt with racism. Carter was proclaiming his innocence and Algren came to find out what was really going on. He wanted to help Carter. Kay saw an opportunity to latch on to Algren to be part of a huge story.

Kay wasn’t convinced of Carter’s innocence. She had all angles of the story coming at her and her goal was to discover “the larger truth about Carter.”

She became close to Algren to get close to Carter, but a friendship developed between the 66-year-old author and the 22-year-old journalist. “I write about how we balance our relationships,” said Kay, who, as a rookie reporter, was unsure where to draw the line in her relationship with Algren almost 30 years ago.

‘The Reading List is about the lives of Algren, Carter and myself as they intersect from 1975 to 2000. It takes a look at how these strands intertwine over 25 years,” said Kay. “It is about Nelson’s pursuit of truth, Rubin’s pursuit of justice, and my pursuit of the story.”

The interviews Kay managed to get were unheard of for a rookie reporter. Her interview with Algren sparked the interest of a young Roger Ebert. When Kay managed to obtain a high profile meeting with Carter, she felt it was a big deal because hardly anyone was able to talk to Carter – especially not the press.

Kay has had a lot of accomplishments over the years, her husband and daughter are part of that list. Kay was always a career woman, but she knew what she ultimately wanted – a family.

Her reporting career spanned over 17 years, during which she made many incredible impressions on the world of journalism. Her self proclaimed highlight was covering a 1980 Santa Fe prison riot, where she got the first interview with a prison guard who had been held hostage.

She continues to write freelance work. “I recognize the difficulty in choosing between a family and a career. I was fortunate to have a reputable career before starting a family, which enabled me to succeed in my freelance career,” said Kay.

Kay was a Page 2 columnist for the Montreal Gazette, and freelances for several magazines, such as Chatelaine, Reader’s Digest, Inside Sports, Newsweek, People, Ladies Home Journal and the Ottawa Magazine. Her career has come full circle since she originally got her B.A. from Syracuse University in Magazine Journalism.

Kay received a M.A. in Media Studies from Concordia and she is now Assistant Professor of Journalism. Her area of research is pioneering female journalists in Canada. She teaches a class called Gender in Journalism.

“I just realized that I knew so little about the women who came before me,” said Kay. “When I came into the profession, (which was in) the ’70s, that was when women were coming into the field in big numbers. That was when there was employment equity legislation, which meant employers were mandated by law to have women in the workplace.”

After Kay came to Canada, she was a judge at the National Newspaper Awards, which is Canada’s version of the Pulitzer Prize. Kay began to wonder when the first woman won an award.

“Oddly enough a woman won in 1949, which was the first year the awards took place and there were only six awards given,” said Kay. She believed this woman must have been very special to win an award. At that time the award was given by the Toronto Men’s Press Club, where women were not allowed.

“I tracked down the lady, who was now 93, and asked her about her experience. I then realized that if I didn’t know anything about these women, then I was sure my students didn’t either,” said Kay.

Kay’s new book is her latest writing endeavour , but it is not her first publication as an author. She has also written a book entitled Romantic Days and Nights in Montreal, which is an insider’s guide to the city she now calls home.

This new book, however, is a non-fiction tale in which Kay begs the question, “Is it possible to really find the truth?” Her response, when asked if she ultimately finds the truth, was, “Read the book and you’ll find out.”

To discover more about Concordia’s hidden treasure, come to Kay’s book launch. It will be Monday, November 21, at 5 p.m. in the atrium of the CJ building on the Loyola Campus. The atrium is located just beside Upper Crust.


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