When a young mother of four children was looking for a way to supplement her family’s income in 1992, writing for her local Independence Bulletin-Journal newspaper seemed an ideal fit. She’d already had dozens of articles published in magazines and niche newsletters, and the evening school board and city council meetings could easily fit around her husband’s work hours. It wasn’t long before she was also writing human interest stories and penning a monthly column titled “From the Hearth.”
That young mother was me. I held that position for nearly two years, when a breastfeeding newborn became too active to accompany me to meetings. My first book baby, “Homeschooling From Scratch,” arrived around the same time that I gave birth to my sixth child in 1996. Two more children and hundreds more published clips in magazines, newspapers and anthologies preceded a freelance job covering human interest stories for the Manchester Press in 2011. By November of that year, I’d added couponing and writing workshops for NICC and Hawkeye community colleges to my roster. It was one of those workshops that garnered the attention of the Telegraph Herald newspaper, where I was offered the opportunity to write a weekly couponing column. That column ran for three years and was likely partially responsible for the book contract I was offered in October 2012 for an ethnographic history of couponing. “Coupon Crazy: The Science, the Savings, and the Stories Behind America’s Extreme Obsession,” was published by Familius, a California-based company, in July 2013. Three more books followed: “Chemo-Therapist: How Cancer Cured a Marriage,” “Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace,” and the recently-released “Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink,” co-written with Mary Jedlicka Humston, of Iowa City.
After the death of my spouse in 2012, it was imperative that I find a job with more stability than freelance work. For the last two years, I’ve been director of the Winthrop Public Library. As recently as three weeks ago, I unearthed a file folder of old newspaper clippings from my Winthrop City Council coverage in 1993. I took them into the office that I was now an employee of in order to reveal my secret to the same city clerk and mayor that had remained in those positions ever since. Like me, they were amused at the irony. I had been the reporter toting a nursing baby with me to their meetings, the one who’d written about the library’s request for more funding, a library I was now director of.
Now, with great excitement and only slight trepidation, I find myself coming full circle, with a position that takes me back to my newspaper roots. As writer, I am happy to return to the profession. The trajectory I took to get here is one I often advise my writing workshop attendees to follow: build up your writing platform brick-by-brick, and follow your heart. I welcome our reader’s input as we go forth in this exciting new venture.
— Mary Potter-Kenyon is a staff writer for the Manchester Press, Dyersville Commercial and Cascade Pioneer. She can be contacted at email@example.com.