First there was a novelist, then a poet, and now comes a screenwriter.
Mark Jude Poirier, who has written screenplays for the movies Smart People, Goats, and Hateship, Loveship, will serve as Colby’s Jennifer Jahrling Forese Writer-in-Residence in Creative Writing during the second semester. Poirier, who lives in New York, is also a writer of fiction and based the screenplay for Goats on his novel of the same name.
He will teach one class during his residency, working with students to explore the art and craft of writing for the movies. He also will work on his own writing project. He plans to adapt a fast-paced short story he wrote—about a gay man approaching middle age faster than he would like—into a screenplay. “His world is falling out from underneath him, and he’s coming to grips with his own internalized homophobia, his own relationship with his parents, and his own foibles—and it’s actually a comedy,” Poirier said.
As a public engagement component, Poirier will join Colby’s English Department and creative writing faculty and Maine Film Center staff members Feb. 15 for a reception, Q&A, and screening of Hateship, Loveship, which Poirier adapted from Alice Munro’s collection Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. The reception begins at 6 p.m. with the movie at 7. Tickets are free but should be reserved in advance through the Maine Film Center.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity and am excited to come to Colby and get back in the classroom,” said Poirier, whose most recent academic appointment was at Harvard University, where he served as the Briggs-Copeland Lecturer on English from 2013 to 2018. After that, he worked for a large entertainment company as a liaison to a literary agency, where he scouted books and articles to adapt into films.
He’s also taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Columbia University, and Bennington College.
Colby established the Jennifer Jahrling Forese Writer-in-Residence Program in Creative Writing in 2019 to build on its strengths in the literary arts and humanities. Students work directly with the writer-in-residence and learn from their area of expertise. The residency is the vision of Trustee Jamie Forese and Jennifer Forese, parents of Colby graduates from the Classes of 2016 and 2018.
“We began this residency to give Colby students the opportunity to work closely with a variety of authors, and Jamie and I are delighted with how the residency has evolved,” Jennifer Forese said. “Good writing takes many forms. Mark Poirier has succeeded as both a novelist and screenwriter. Students will interact with him directly, learn about the inspiration behind his work, and what it takes to get it out in the world.”
“We live in a time of visual storytelling,” said Adrian Blevins, professor of English and creative writing and director of the Creative Writing Program. “We don’t teach screenwriting, so this gives us a chance to augment the faculty and offer a course in a different genre of writing.”
From snowboarding to screenwriting
Poirier came to screenwriting through fiction. In his late 20s, he was living in Portland, Ore., working as an adjunct professor at Portland State University, and doing a lot of snowboarding.
Perhaps too much.
“Snowboarders are not the most cerebral people on the planet, and I felt like I needed to be doing more,” he said.
A friend mentioned a screenwriting fellowship sponsored by Paramount Pictures. It was attractive to Poirier because applicants could submit any form of writing for consideration. Poirier, who by then had published one novel and two collections of short stories, sent his novel Goats and was accepted.
He wrote his first screenplay during the fellowship, and that became the movie Smart People, a comedy-drama released in 2008 starring Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Elliot Page, and Thomas Haden Church. It’s the story of a widowed and self-absorbed college literature professor who is trying to mend relationships with his kids while beginning another one with a former student.
It was a remarkably successful first foray into screenwriting. “Compared to most people who spend years in Starbucks grinding away, I got super lucky in that the first screenplay I wrote became a film, premiered at Sundance, and had all these famous people in it,” Poirier said.
He spent two months on the movie set in Pittsburgh—the professor in the film teaches at Carnegie Mellon University—and learned from director Noam Murro. “He was very inclusive. He wanted me to be there on the set so I could do last-minute rewrites. It was a great learning experience,” Poirier said. “I very quickly learned what would end up on the cutting-room floor, so my next script was much leaner.”
Another mentor is the late writer Larry McMurtry. Poirier befriended him at a critical time in his development as a writer. Poirier had graduated from Stanford, Johns Hopkins, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop when McMurtry invited him to work in a bookstore he owned and operated in Archer City, Texas, near Wichita Falls, and to immerse himself in writing projects. Poirier wrote his third and fourth books there, and he learned the value of discipline and routine from McMurtry and his writing partner, Diana Ossana.
Poirier arrives at Colby following a year of medical challenges. Healthy now, a routine exam in September 2021 revealed he had a high level of creatinine in his blood, an indication of kidney disease. He was admitted to the hospital, and a few days later doctors told him that his kidneys were failing and he needed a transplant, dialysis, or both.
Dialysis began soon after, and in March 2022 he underwent transplant surgery. His youngest sister donated a kidney. There have been setbacks, but he feels good.
“Knock on wood, the kidney has been great,” he said. “I am doing all the stuff I used to do before I got sick, like mountain biking and rock climbing.”
“Oh yes. I still love to snowboard,” he said. “When I decided to apply for the residency at Colby, it looked like a lovely opportunity—and what a great place to be for the winter of 2023.”
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