Acclaimed novelist Nicholson Baker will be the first Jennifer Jahrling Forese Writer-in-Residence in Creative Writing Fellow, heralding a new opportunity for Colby’s student writers to interact with and learn from some of the most accomplished practitioners of the craft.
“Colby has one of the best creative writing programs at any college in the country, as our faculty are prolific and well-known, and our visiting writers’ programs are lively and vibrant,” said Provost and Dean of Faculty Margaret McFadden. “The one element that the program lacked was the ability to bring in distinguished visiting writers for long-term residencies, and now Nicholson Baker will be joining us this spring.”
The Jennifer Jahrling Forese Writer-in-Residence Program in Creative Writing is the first to give students the opportunity to have a distinguished writer in place for as long as an entire semester, allowing for budding writers to engage with the fellow in the classroom and, less formally, on campus. The fellow will also engage with the Waterville community.
“Mr. Baker is a prolific and distinguished author, who has published in a remarkable range of forms, from novels to book-length nonfiction to essays and collections of essays,” said McFadden. “He has won numerous national prizes and fellowships and we are confident that having someone of his stature, who is very well-known and well-respected, will bring attention to the position and to our excellent program.”
A gifted writer, Baker is the author of 10 novels, seven nonfiction books, and many more short stories and essays. He’s written for publications such as The New Yorker, Harper’s, The New York Review of Books, and The Atlantic Monthly. His first and most famous novel about the 1980s office life, The Mezzanine, was translated into more than a dozen languages. Baker’s work has brought him numerous national prizes and fellowships, such as the National Book Critics Circle Award, New York Times Notable Books of the Year, and Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. In addition to being a dedicated writer, he has two music albums and is learning oil painting and drawing—the subject of his upcoming book.
“I’m grateful to the Jahrling Forese family for being so kind and for founding this residency, which I am enormously honored to be part of,” said Baker, who, with his wife, Margaret Brentano, lives on Maine’s Penobscot River and has frequented the Colby College Museum of Art over the years. “I’m excited to be a part of what’s going on at Colby. I’ve always had a lot of fond feelings for the College.”
In the late’90s, Baker and Brentano cofounded the American Newspaper Repository, saving a large collection of newspaper volumes, including Joseph Pulitzer’s the New York World and rare runs of newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times.
As the Jennifer Jahrling Forese Creative Writing Fellow, Baker will design and teach a semester-long creative writing course, hold office hours, and generally be available to students. “The fun thing about teaching is that students take classes in unexpected directions,” said Baker, whose course in the spring semester will “cruise through the pages of The New Yorker.” Looking at American and world history through this iconic magazine, the students will read works of great prose writers, learn from their techniques, and practice those themselves under Baker’s guidance and mentorship.
Michael Burke, professor of English and director of the Creative Writing Program, said that up-close and sustained interaction with an accomplished writer is a valuable addition to the Program.
“There are other writer-in-residence programs, but not many at schools our size, and even fewer as generous as this one,” Burke said. “This is an exciting experience we can provide our students, adding to what is already one of the top small-college creative writing programs.” It’s also adding another really unique and valuable teacher such as Baker, he stressed.
The new program adds to a robust creative writing presence on campus, including the Stahl Writer-in-Residence, which brings writers to Colby for week-long stays working with students and giving talks, and a visiting writers series that brings a succession of novelists, poets, and nonfiction writers to campus every year.
Jennifer Jahrling Forese said that she and her husband, Trustee Jamie Forese, have been supporters of Colby’s athletic programs, in which two of their four sons, Tommy Forese ’16 and Bobby Forese ’18, played baseball. When Jennifer and Jamie Forese were considering other ways to support Colby, they noted the need for funding to further develop and support the humanities.
“Jamie and I both think it’s important to teach our students to write and express themselves clearly,” Jennifer Jahrling Forese said, “and have an appreciation for literature.”
An English major at Mount Holyoke College who continues to write fiction and for her own journal, she said she has met writers at events and has always been fascinated by their discussion of the writing process and craft. The program will allow for that to happen often for Colby students.
“Having these accomplished writers in the classroom, and integrated into the campus environment, is an invaluable experience for developing writers and the Colby community as a whole,” Jahrling Forese said. “I’m excited about the first writer-in-residence, Nicholson Baker, and the format of his semester at Colby. It’s exactly how I envisioned it.”