ABOUT MARILYN KATZ
Marilyn Ogus Katz is an author based in New York City. Her stories have been published in numerous journals, including the Tupolo Quarterly and Hadassah Magazine. Her short story, Life List, was a winner of Writer’s Digest best short shorts competition in 2015. A new collection of stories, A Few Small Stones, is due out in 2018 (Unsolicited Press). She is completing the final revisions on her novel, The Old City. It follows one of the characters in A Few Small Stones back to Eastern Europe in 1939-1940 where he and his family are caught between Hitler and Stalin. Katz served as the Dean of Studies and Student Life at Sarah Lawrence College for almost twenty years, and continued on as consultant to the president.
Marilyn Ogus Katz has a Masters in English and American Literature from NYU and taught literature and writing in an innovative social action program at the Cooperative College Center in Mount Vernon from 1970 to 1980. The Mount Vernon program was designed by Manhattanville, Sarah Lawrence, and SUNY to meet the needs of poor people in the community. When the program moved to the new campus of the State University of New York, College at Purchase Katz became an Associate Professor and won the best teaching award the following year. In 1982, she became Dean of Studies and Student Life at Sarah Lawrence College where she served until 1998 and supervised the Registrar, Student Life, the Health Service, Career Counseling and Community Outreach. Katz continued at Sarah Lawrence as a consultant to the President until 2001.
Katz is a member of Gray Matters, a group of retired women and men who assist community-based organizations. She also worked for the Jeanette K. Watson fellowship program that selects New York City college students for three summers of paid internships. Katz mentored students, reading their journals and visiting placements.
Marilyn Katz’s essays on literature, the teaching of writing, issues in higher education and the concerns of older women have been published and anthologized.
She is completing the final revisions on her novel, THE OLD CITY. It follows one of the characters in A FEW SMALL STONES back to Eastern Europe in 1939-1940 where he and his family are caught between Hitler and Stalin.
Katz’s collection of linked short stories, A FEW SMALL STONES, about an extended immigrant family in 1940s New York City will be published by Unsolicited Press in 2018. Five of the stories in A FEW SMALL STONES have appeared: “Life List” was a prize winner in the Writer’s Digest short shorts competition (ninth out of 6500 entries) 2015 and “Uncle Sol Comes to America” was one of three semi-finalists in the Tupolo Quarterly winter prose contest, 2016. The title story appeared in Hadassah Magazine, in 2016, “Witness to History” in Persimmon Tree, and “Ta Da!” in Jewish Currents.
My dad came to this country from Latvia in 1909. He was seventeen and spoke no English, although everyone else in his cultured family knew at least three languages. Dad was dyslexic, and although very smart, he did poorly in school. Going to America was probably his escape from a society that made him feel inadequate, an escape that saved his life and gave me mine.
My mother, the second of four daughters, the first born here, a gifted pianist. She didn’t go to college; she went to music conservatory. But she believed in the transformative power of reading. Typically, when I turned seventeen, she said she was giving me a blouse for the body, a set of Shakespeare for the mind, and a book of Emily Dickinson for the soul. The blouse is long gone, but the Shakespeare and Dickinson, spines a bit ragged, are on the shelf in my living room today.
A charming storyteller, Mom took joy in comments she overheard on the streets or on the trolley, in a restaurant or store. She brought her stories back to us as polished gems, imitating Russian and Yiddish accents to perfection. We laughed over them again, but other stories we shared helped us sort something out that angered or upset us, experience the past, keep someone who died alive, and, perhaps most important, perpetuate what we valued. Although I read constantly, my mother’s storytelling, close listening and enthusiasm, even for the first poem I wrote at seven, encouraged me to become a writer.
When I was ten we moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan, my Dad’s public assertion of his success as a businessman. I attended a private school for two years and then PS 87. On Saturdays, I studied piano at the demanding Juilliard Preparatory School. But I was happiest at the High School of Music and Art. I auditioned as a pianist, and was assigned the cello as my second instrument. Those who wore braces couldn’t play winds or brass, and since I was tall, I had a choice of double bass or cello. After practicing the piano alone, it was exciting to play Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony in an orchestra. Participating in a lively community of creative artists and musicians got me through the trials of adolescence. Our class of ’50 is still close. We don’t wait for Reunions but meet yearly at a New York restaurant. Many are still involved in creative work: one designing furniture, another selling her quirky photography, another, still painting and a celebrated artist in a Chelsea gallery.
My parents insisted their only child go to college close to home: Sarah Lawrence, Barnard or Bard. I only knew Sarah Lawrence was half an hour drive from our apartment; I knew nothing about its unique approach to education. Almost all courses there are seminars, with bi-weekly conferences where we developed an interest and ultimately a paper that reflected an aspect of the course that excited us. In my political science course, I became interested in Prohibition, and wondered how an unpopular pressure group could change legislation. I discussed this question in my bi-weekly conference and met with a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and an officer of Seagram’s Liquors. I didn’t have to wait until my junior year to get this kind of attention from a “major.” I was fully engaged, not walking through. Our academic advisor, the teacher of our first year studies, knew our needs, when to encourage, when to challenge us. The college values passionate engagement with learning and strong social and political commitments. New York City offers experiences and internships that enhance the education. The exceptional teachers at Sarah Lawrence taught me how to teach.
After graduating in 1954, I worked in public relations at Filene’s in Boston for a almost a year, returned to New York with newspaper clips and landed a job as a public relations writer at Seventeen Magazine. I married Maurice “Mac” Katz in 1955 and had two children fifteen months apart. By the time I was thirty, Jimmy and Emily were in school and I was enjoying the luxury of taking one course at a time towards a degree in English and American literature at NYU. I finished t he Masters, the coursework and the comprehensive exam for the Ph.D, but I had become more interested in the theory and practice of the teaching of writing than in my dissertation on Samuel Richardson, the 18th Century English novelist. Thanks to my connection to Sarah Lawrence, I worked at the Cooperative College Center designed by Sarah Lawrence, Manhattanville and SUNY, Purchase to offer the poor and disadvantaged in Westchester the first two years of college in seminars and conferences. Those who completed the program could finish their degrees at a participating college.
From 1970 to 1980, I taught literature and expository writing at The Cooperative College Center in a church in Mount Vernon. About two-thirds of my students were African-American who were generous to me and even felt comfortable calling me on my unconscious racism. Students were working two jobs and getting to class, others were on methadone maintenance, still others were in and out of prison, and two were on study release and came down on their own from Bedford Women’s Correctional Facility. They found Christian Science in prison and were among my best students. During the late sixties and early seventies, after the terrible riots at Attica, government tried rehabilitation as an approach to incarceration.
We moved to the new campus at SUNY, Purchase where I received tenure as an Associate Professor and taught for two years, before becoming Dean of Studies and Student Life at Sarah Lawrence. A demanding position, the dean is involved in the academic and social life of every student on campus. I expected to leave after a few years, but the students, the times and the issues kept changing and I kept learning. I reported to the President as one of eight executive staff, and could advocate for students at the highest level. The college welcomed new ideas and, as long as it wasn’t too costly, I could encourage my staff to be innovative.
While I was working, my husband died of kidney cancer at 63 and my mother only two years later; I lost both of my best friends and supporters in a short time. Soon after, Jimmy and Emily developed serious and life-threatening illnesses and each of my granddaughters had major surgeries. Everyone is doing well, but they went through some rough years. And as a mother and grandmother, so did I.
After sixteen years, I reached retirement age and my longtime partner, George Petty, was retiring as well. With his encouragement, I wrote seriously, obsessed with my stories. At the college, I was no longer patient; I just wanted to tell everyone what to do. I had become a parody of myself, as if I were “playing” Marilyn Katz. It was time to go.
My days are full. I help a few non-profits, work on my novel, enjoy George, my family and his, and celebrate our nine grandchildren who teach us what’s going on. Despite health problems, we get into the woods for short hikes or just sit on George’s deck drinking fair trade, organic coffee from Seattle. Sometimes our movement startles the great blue heron from fishing in our creek and into his gracefully awkward prehistoric flight.