Giving voice to the silenced, giving visibility to people, places and events rendered invisible, runs through Rita Kohn's published books and articles, produced plays and aired documentaries. Her career as an educator, editor, journalist and public scholar have intersected with a strong sense of civic responsibility and advocacy for arts in everyday life.
A pioneer for bringing visibility to libraries through strong marketing/public relations led to publication of three benchmark books. Still in-print with Scarecrow Press are: You Can Do It: PR Manual for Librarians, 1981; Have You Got What They Want? Public Relations Strategies for School Librarian/Media Specialist, 1982; 2nd ed. 1990; Experiencing Displays, 1982.
Mythology for Young People: A Reference Guide. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities Vol. 605, 1985 and Once Upon...A Time for Young People and Their Books: A Reference Guide, Scarecrow Press, 1986, capped Kohn's work as a professor of literature for children. This emphasis, coupled with her concern for the diminishing involvement of civic enterprise and family pride, led to the publication of My Country 'Tis of Me: Discovering Citizenship Through Cultural Heritage: K-3 Resource. McFarland, 1989.
Following her work with the Indiana Humanities Council/National Endowment for the Humanities project, Always A River: The Ohio River and the American Experience, leaders of the Woodland Indian tribes who had assisted her requested that she undertake oral histories of their elders to preserve their cultural and historical memories. Always A People: Oral Histories of Contemporary Woodland People was published to acclaim by Indiana University Press in 1997. Four picture books on current Woodland Indians preceded, in 1995, published by Children's Press. Celebrating Summer, The Fall Gathering, Winter Storytime, Spring Planting are each illustrated by American Indian artists and serve equally as math-centered books for children pre-school upward.
The commitment to bring visibility to American Indians now living in Indiana led to Kohn's co-founding the Indiana American Indian Theatre Company, for which she has written two scripts, Shadow Speakers of Night Sky Stories (with Joseph Bruchac) and People of the Turtle. With the first she wrote a classroom guide, with the latter, a companion publication, Finding Our Way Home: the Great Lakes Woodland People, published by the Indiana Historical Bureau, 2001. This was followed by the making of a documentary and a companion book on the Delaware Indians who sojourned in Indiana prior to forced removal in the 1820s. Long Journey Home, produced by WFYI-public television, aired in Indianapolis during April 2003.
She is in her 20th year as editor of the Ohio River Valley Series published by the University Press of Kentucky. A continuation of the Always A River project, these books illuminate the importance of America's first interstate transportation system. Lacking a spokes-person as intriguing as Mark Twain, the Ohio River early lost precedence to that other river whose north to south route intersects with the Ohio's east to west, creating a combined story of continuing importance.
In 1983 Kohn was named a winner in the first Festival of Emerging American Theatre at the Phoenix Theatre in Indianapolis. Since that professional production of Necessities: the Life of Louisa May Alcott, Kohn has been awarded other prizes, commissions and grants. Her 25 produced plays includes works on Samuel Johnson, Edwin Booth and Marcia Lee Masters and her poet father. A Different Journey highlights the extraordinary lives of authors/antiquarian booksellers, Dr. Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern. Plays on Biblical women include Ruth and Sarah & Hagar. Legacy brings to the stage the apocryphal character, Aunt Jane, and Traces brings to light one pioneering Indiana family story. When Blackbirds Fly affords another view of the Tuskeegee Airmen. This script continues to be toured by Young Audiences of Virginia.
Kohn is listed in Something About the Author, vol. 89 and a host of Who's Who and Directories. In 2003 Kohn was named to the Illinois State University College of Education "Hall of Fame."