Award-winning author and screenwriter Chris Offutt is slated to join the faculty at the University of Mississippi this fall as assistant professor of English and screenwriting.
Offutt, who wrote two screenplays for HBO’s hit series “True Blood,” is writing a screenplay for the HBO series “Treme.” He is also the author of several novels and memoirs, and his upcoming work, “Luck,” will be his third short story collection.
English department Chair Ivo Kamps said the faculty is “extremely pleased to add to its rank a screenwriter, novelist and nonfiction writer” of Offutt’s caliber.
“With the growing importance of film and media studies in the English department and the approval of a new minor in cinema in the College of Liberal Arts, it is only natural that we start offering classes in screenwriting,” Kamps said.
The Hollywood Reporter reported this week that Offutt is negotiating to sell a one-hour crime drama script to CBS, with former William Morris Agency television head Aaron Kaplan on board as an executive producer. Offutt, who has also written an episode of Showtime’s hit drama “Weeds,” is the first member in the English department to offer classes in the screenwriting craft.
“Offutt’s direct knowledge of filmmaking and screenwriting will be invaluable to our many students who are fascinated by the subject,” Kamps said. “His screenwriting class filled up almost instantly, indicating student demand for screenwriting. His ‘Introduction to Film’ class is also fully enrolled. We are looking forward to his arrival on campus.”
Offutt said he grew up in a “very small, rural” part of eastern Kentucky and is looking forward to “coming home to the South.”
“Since leaving Kentucky, I’ve lived all over the country, in big cities and small towns, and really learned a lot. The biggest thing I learned was that I really love the South and miss it. I’ve been trying to get back for a long time,” he said.
Offutt first visited Oxford in 1994 for a book tour.
“There was an ice storm, and I got trapped down here for several days. It was an adventure,” he said with a laugh. “The way people pulled together during such a hard time really impressed me.”
Since then, Offutt has visited Oxford several times and said that he “loved the town and the school.”
“Oxford is the literary center of the South, a town where it’s OK to be a writer,” Offutt said. “I’ve never experienced such warmth and hospitality and acceptance anywhere else.”
Offutt did not originally embark on a writing career but was interested in acting. He earned a bachelor’s degree in theater from Morehead State University in 1981.
While at MSU, he wrote several plays and then shifted to writing fiction. In 1990, Offutt earned an M.F.A. in fiction from the University of Iowa.
In 1992, he published the short story collection “Kentucky Straight,” quickly followed by his memoir “The Same River Twice.” Offutt published his first novel, “The Good Brother,” in 1997, and his second collection of short stories, “Out of the Woods,” in 1999. His second memoir, “No Heroes: A Memoir of Coming Home,” came out in 2002, and “Luck” is slated to be released next year.
Offutt has worked as a screenwriter for more than a decade. He got his start when an independent film producer optioned one of Offutt’s short stories. His first screenplay, “Out of the Woods,” is based on his short story of the same name. A few years later a writer from Brooklyn asked Offutt to co-write a Western with him.
“He’d write all the town sections and the domestic scenes, and I’d write the rest: gunfights, saloon brawls and a jailbreak,” Offutt said. “That sounded great to me. I got all the fun stuff.”
As a result, Offutt earned credentials in the field. Then about four years ago, Offutt was asked to write a pilot for cable television. The pilot stars Oxford native Joey Lauren Adams with Sam Shepard, Trace Atkins and Lucas Black.
Last spring, Offutt shot “The Trapper,” a short film that he wrote.
“I like that form a lot,” he said. “The short film is very difficult to write but can be shot on a short schedule on a relatively low budget. It’s a terrific way to learn. For students, a short film can serve as a ‘calling card,’ an example of their abilities.”
While Offutt admits that writing a screenplay is a lot of work, it is also fun. It’s something he wants his students to learn.
“You can’t learn to write a screenplay just by watching movies and TV,” he said. “Read novels and short stories and plays. And the most important thing of all – if what you really want to do is write screenplays, don’t let anyone or anything get in your way.”
Offutt, who was named one of the 20 best young American fiction writers by UK literary magazine Granta, has received awards from the Lannan Foundation, Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, The American Academy of Arts and Letters, National Endowment for the Arts and the Whiting Foundation.