Remembering Kirk Polking: Author, Writer’s Digest Editor, and Pioneer for Women in Writing

For Women’s History Month, Writer’s Digest remembers legendary editor Dorothy “Kirk” Polking (1925-2017), whose mark on the writing world and legacy for women writers live on today. 

Image from The Cincinnati Post, August 12, 1974, in an article called “Editor in the Air: Kirk Polking discovered a new language when she started flying” | Photographer: Max Samuelson

Starting in 1960, Kirk Polking became one of Writer’s Digest‘s most memorable editors—for relentless dedication, for an unshakeable sense of adventure, for a deep knowledge of writing and publishing … and for the fact that she was a woman.

Born Dorothy Ann Polking in 1925, she would expand WD’s circulation to more than 200,000 and establish it as the premier magazine for writers in the world, according to then-owner of F+W Dick Rosenthal. Beyond her work for the magazine, Polking authored more than two dozen books, served as director of the Writer’s Digest School and president of the Cincinnati Editor’s Association, editing Manage magazine, and earned many awards for her work, including a National Headliner Award from Theta Sigma Phi, a society for women professionals in communications.

Polking passed away on October 24, 2017. Since then, we have spent our days reflecting on her extraordinary works on writing, flight, exploration and more, but Rosenthal said it best:

Conscientious, fun-loving, religiously meeting deadlines, Kirk was also an adventurer. When she wondered how airplanes flew, she earned a pilot’s license to learn firsthand. Not satisfied with that, she wrote a book on piloting which turned into four successful editions. Ever learning about everything from astronomy to zoos, she actually kept list of topics she and friends discussed over dinner to be sure she introduced new things to talk about at their next get-together. The world was her playground, and its people her friends.

Clipping from The Cincinnati Post, August 12, 1974, in an article called “Editor in the Air: Kirk Polking discovered a new language when she started flying” | Click the image to expand

Polking never outright hid the fact that she was a woman, but she used the pseudonym Kirk to limit stigma from her readers, both of WD and of her books. Her friend Jan Sherbin explained to “She would tell you, ‘Who would want to read a book on flying airplanes written by someone named Dorothy?'” How important, then, her leadshership has been for those of us who have come after—both women and men who have served as editors and staffers for WD in the decades since Polking wore the mantle.

At WD, it is our honor to follow in her prestigious footsteps, and to live up to the example she set—not only for writers, but also for anyone with a dream and the passion to pursue it.

Read more about Kirk Polking’s legacy and the history of women in writing here.

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About Jess Zafarris

Jess Zafarris is the Director of Content Strategy and Online Content for Writer’s Digest and ScriptMag. Her eight years of experience in digital and print content direction includes such roles as editor-in-chief of HOW design magazine and online content director of HOW and PRINT, as well as writing for the Denver Business Journal, ABC News, and the Memphis Commercial Appeal. She spends much of her spare time researching curious word histories and writing about them at Follow her at @jesszafarris or @uselessety on Twitter.


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