Four Questions For: Marlene Kahan, Executive Director, ASME

kahan.jpgThis week’s exorbitant shoe-buying sessions and triple-returned Zara blazers make one thing clear: Ellies ’08 fever is upon us (and we’ll have related features with some of your favorite nominees running all next week on the main site, plus the live blog once again next Thursday to prove it). However, we picked up the phone yesterday to ring Marlene Kahan, executive director of the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) for something other than a request to revisit placing us in the nosebleed seats again (hint, hint…).

This Saturday in Manhattan at the 14th annual Parkinson’s Unity Walk, Kahan will be honored with the Alan Bonander Humanitarian Award, recognizing her efforts to elevate awareness and raise funds to drive research toward a cure for the disease. In that spirit, Kahan, who herself was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s in 2003, gave a firsthand account of learning she had the disease in the May issue of Bazaar. We spoke with her about the piece, the “purpose” she feels raising awareness of Parkinson’s, and whether she thinks the magazine industry does enough for staffers battling diseases like hers.

1) How did the Harper’s Bazaar piece come together?
“It was a mutual thing — Amy Barnett, the writer, has long been a member of ASME and [the magazine’s editor-in-chief] Glenda Bailey, who’s a member of ASME, has been saying for years that she’s wanted to do something on this with me.”

2) What’s significant to you about the event this weekend?

“The Parkinson’s Unity Walk is the longest-running grassroots organization devoted to finding a cure for Parkinson’s — it was started in 1994. What I liked about it from the very beginning was that every dollar raised goes directly to research. Through sponsorships and very generous donors, they’re able to keep costs down so that all the money raised from the walk goes straight to research efforts at various organizations — the National Parkinson Foundation, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and others.”

3) How are you feeling at the prospect of receiving the Bonander award?
“I’m ecstatic — it’s very rewarding for me to be recognized in this way. To be able to have the response I’ve gotten from the industry I work in — I feel like I’ve found a new purpose in life. I just feel like this work has enhanced my life in so many ways.”

4) How well do you think the magazine industry — specifically, ASME member organizations — supports individuals like you who cope with long-term health issues, such as Parkinson’s?
“The industry, as a whole, has been incredible to me. People within it have been so supportive to me, and I can only hope that this extends to the people in their organizations.”

If you work in the magazine industry and grapple with long-term health issues, does your organization support you as much as you think it should? Tell us about rag trade examplars and not-so-much-ars in the comments…

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