FORT KENT, Maine — Students at another Aroostook County college will get a chance to learn from an award-winning novelist next month when Allagash native Cathie Pelletier returns to the classroom to serve as the inaugural Waneta Blake Visiting Professor of Writing at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.
Pelletier, a 1976 graduate of UMFK, was chosen for the position by the university’s arts and humanities division program in transformative language arts.
The author, screenwriter and literary agent will teach “Writing Workshop and The Writer’s Life,” a three-credit course during the spring semester. She also will conduct “Stories in the Community,” a three-credit workshop.
The writing course will be taught 2-3:20 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays and the second workshop will be 6-8:40 p.m. Wednesdays.
UMFK’s spring semester begins on Jan. 11 and runs through May 6.
Born and raised in Allagash, Pelletier has written nine novels, some of which have been turned into movies, and has collaborated over the years with some of the top names in Hollywood and Nashville.
She wrote her first novel, “The Funeral Makers,” in 1986, and followed with such well-known novels as “The Bubble Reputation” and “Beaming Sonny Home.” In 1998, she made international literary news when Doubleday paid her a $1 million advance for her novel “Candles on Bay Street,” written under her pen name K.C. McKinnon. “Candles” eventually became a Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions film starring Alicia Silverstone.
Her other McKinnon novel, “Dancing at the Harvest Moon,” has been translated into 18 languages and, in 2002, became a CBS movie starring Jacqueline Bisset and Valerie Harper. Her most recent collaboration is titled “A is for Allagash: A Lumberjack’s Life,” a book she wrote with her father, Louis, to honor his 90 years of life.
“I am really excited about this,” Pelletier said Wednesday about teaching at UMFK. “I am back in Allagash for a time and it seemed like a natural transition to work with students at UMFK. The president invited me, and I am looking forward to it.”
This is the second time Pelletier has worked with a County college. In the winter of 2008, she was the inaugural writer-in-residence at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. She taught two courses — “Fiction Writing and The Writer’s Life” and “Talking Books: Conversations with the Authors.”
She said Wednesday that her UMFK courses would follow much the same format as her UMPI classes. The visiting professorship at UMFK is designed to bring noteworthy writers and scholars to the college to work with students through courses, workshops and seminars.
“We will work on writing and rewriting, and we will talk to authors by phone about their work and their writing process,” she explained. “But this class is open to anyone. You don’t have to be an aspiring writer to take the course. This course can help people become better readers by showing them the craft of writing, how a book is put together and how an author goes about conveying their message. I don’t want this to be intimidating to anyone. This is not just to teach someone how to write a manuscript. If it teaches them how to write a better letter or be better at daily correspondence, then that is great.”
Pelletier will be asking respected writers of fiction and nonfiction to talk to the writing class by telephone. At UMPI, students spoke with Pulitzer Price-winning novelist Richard Russo, met poet Wesley McNair and also spoke to novelist Martha Tod Dudman.
“These kinds of talks connect the aspiring writer to well-published authors who have paved the way,” she said. “And in learning more about the writing life, we will talk to Tappan Wilder about his uncle, Thornton, and with Dean Faulkner about being raised by Uncle William at Rowan Oak. Iconic writers such as Faulkner and Wilder were aspiring writers once themselves. By talking to those who knew them personally, they suddenly become human, not just a name on a book.”
During “Stories in the Community,” students will conduct assigned interviews with St. John Valley residents.
Pelletier has selected four themes: “In Country: Vietnam Vets of the St. John Valley”; “Christmas in Fort Kent: The Early Years”; “Farms of the St. John Valley”; and “In Common Ground: Graveyards of the St. John Valley.”
The topics for this workshop are the subjects of the next four books Pelletier will publish for Northern Maine Books, a small company she has formed in order to record and preserve local history. Class participants will help gather information and photos on the subjects to be included in the books and then work toward polishing the interviews for publication.
For more information on registering for Pelletier’s classes, call the UMFK registrar’s office at 834-7520.