Putting pen to paper

As he transitions from college to career, Ben Katz’21 hopes to combine his interests in public service with writing in the nonprofit sector — and pen stories for literary journals on the side.

Ben Katz graduated with a double major in health and society and creative writing (with departmental honors) in May and spent the summer and early part of the fall semester working remotely for the Youth Employment Service (YES), a free summer employment program in his hometown of Ithaca, New York. The program employs and supports teens from low-income families or who have a language barrier. Ben stayed in Beloit during its beautiful summer months.

This fall, while finishing his YES stint for a few hours a week, Ben is also taking advantage of Beloit’s 9th semester to tie up a few academic loose ends.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show, managed by Ben Katz, went on safely during the pandemic. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, managed by Ben Katz, went on safely during the pandemic.Ben chose to study with professors and subjects he didn’t get to explore in his four years at Beloit, including courses about the history of the American environment, feminist and queer art and literature, and a French class focusing on Caribbean literature. He’s also assisting in Beloit’s annual Halloween Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow cast, in which he directed and performed as an undergraduate. And he’s helping to usher in the future leaders of the college’s literary organization, Pocket Lint, which he co-managed with fellow creative writing major and good friend Elsa Cournoyer’21.

“When I came here, I vaguely knew that I cared about social issues and liked working with young people, so I was thinking maybe education, maybe anthropology, but had not really decided,” says Ben. Ron Watson, Ben’s FYI advisor and health and society professor, led him to the major.

“It really combines a lot of what I care about: volunteering for Planned Parenthood back home, public health and outreach and social justice, how economics and health intersect,” Ben said.

Creative writing came a little later; in fact, Ben didn’t even consider it until after he took his first intro class with Professor of English Chris Fink.

“It was just a really great class,” says Ben. “We were all pretty supportive of each other. I ended up taking more creative writing classes. Looking back, it seems obvious; I did a lot of writing in high school. I knew I wanted to keep doing it, but I don’t know why it had never occurred to me that I could major in it.”

Fink became Ben’s major advisor and one of his favorite professors. Fink also chose Ben and Elsa as the Beloit Fiction Journal’s co-managing editors for their dedication as well as their experience using Adobe InDesign to format Pocket Lint. The co-managers organized story submissions into “slush piles” to be read by teams of other student editors, formatted the journal, and prepared it for print. Chief editors of other prestigious journals around the country follow a similar process.

“[Fink] really gave us a lot of responsibility,” says Ben. “I felt like he was there to support me, but I was able to learn how to do things on my own. That was a space where I felt I was really encouraged to grow. The opportunity to be involved in something like that and then to be there when the physical copies came — it was just really cool. I’m very grateful for that opportunity.”

As for what comes next, Ben is keeping his options open, but might like to continue in the world of nonprofits, putting his data entry and communication skills to use while continuing to write in his free time. He’s currently polishing up three short stories he wrote for his senior thesis, which were workshopped by Fink and fellow English professor Michael Dango, to submit to journals after classes end.

He’d like to stay involved in the literary world and is researching the journals most likely to be a fit. “I’m trying to find that middle ground [of], ‘this journal is known well enough that I would feel proud if I got in, but also not too well-known that there’s no chance that I’m getting in,’” he says. “I’m trying to find that balance.”

October 14, 2021

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