Kentucky professionals discuss careers in writing, honor the late James Baker Hall

By Lauren Conrad

Four writers discussed their influence and careers, each different in scope, at the fourth installment of the James Baker Hall Writer Series, which honors the late Kentucky writer, Thursday evening.

The speakers, Buck Ryan, a journalism professor at UK; Rob Theakston, assistant director of event marketing and student programming at UK; Laura Ungar, medical writer for The Courier-Journal; and Marc Jennings, a UK graduate who has worked in publishing and public relations, spoke in a panel discussion led by Shannon Ruhl, the Cultural Arts committee director for the Student Activities Board.

The panel focused on advice for students on how to have a career that involved writing in today’s economy, and how Kentucky can play a role in a writing career.

Ungar said journalists should develop the ability to multi-task proficiently, as a way to survive down-sizing at newspapers. She said those who are left with jobs pick up the responsibilities of those who have been let go, and told the audience to be successful you need to “follow your heart, do your best and try to be valuable to your employer.”

To find your niche in the professional world after college, Ryan told the crowd they need to find their “A-plus and passion.” In order to have a successful career, one needs to determine what they do that is excellent and master that skill, he said offering that in tandem with one’s A-plus, you need to include your passion, which encompasses “figuring out what you would be doing anyway and then how do you get some one to pay you to do it.”

In theme with the struggling job market that is today’s reality for graduating college students, Jennings told the crowd that “there will always be some need to tell a story and some way to do it,” so a career in journalism or writing is still a way to make a living, he said.

The panelists agreed that Kentucky offers a thriving market for writers today, given its rich history and current progress and development.

Theakston told stories about the huge musical history in Kentucky that has been untapped.

“Kentucky is at a rare point where everything is now coming due in the state’s history and people are starting to invest in the legacy before this generation passes on,” Theakston said.

Ungar, who spent her education and early career in Connecticut, recalled a flight she was on where the passenger next to her, a woman from the Netherlands on her way to Chicago to get married told her, “sometimes it’s not that you choose a place, but that the place chooses you because it needs you.”

Jennings agreed that a place will find you when it needs you. This is the fourth time he has moved to Kentucky.

The Writer’s Series was created by SAB in honor of the late James Baker Hall, who was a renowned Kentucky poet, photographer, novelist, film writer and long-standing UK faculty member.