In 2008, with his Los Angeles-based entertainment law firm doing great, Kevin Morris ’85 turned to his mentor, Cornell professor Glenn Altschuler MA ’73, PhD ’76, to help him pursue his real passion—writing. “Glenn was my freshman advisor. We’ve remained close through all these years,” said Morris. “He knew my aspiration.”
Altschuler, dean of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions and the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies, suggested that the two of them write articles together for the Huffington Post, subtly nudging his former student to do most of the writing.
“He snuck that little point in there that I would do the first draft, which turned out to be all the work,” said Morris.
But the hard work paid off. Together, Morris and his former professor wrote and published 18 articles in one year, ranging from political commentaries to book reviews.
“It was a great start, a great way to get in the chair,” said Morris.
The practice of writing articles led to a practice of writing short stories for Morris. One of those short stories turned into a novel, and after years of polishing and persistence—all the while continuing to practice law—he released two books with Grove Atlantic: White Man’s Problems, a book of short stories, and All Joe Knight, his first novel, which was published in December.
He adds his career as a fiction writer to his work as an entertainment lawyer and accomplishments as a producer; he is the co-producer of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical The Book of Mormon and producer of the documentary Hands on a Hard Body.
“I think it’s my calling to be a creative person, an artist,” Morris said. “Even with me being a lawyer,my artistic orientation allowed me to get along in the practice that I chose, because when you represent creative people, it helps to be creative yourself.”
Morris shared insights and the story of his writing career during a lunch with students on February 23. Co-sponsored by the creative writing program and the Quill Guild, the conversation in the English Lounge of Goldwin Smith Hall ranged from daily writing habits to the discipline it takes to write while holding down a full-time job, to telling the experiences of others through fiction.
“I love the idea of a 13-year-old Japanese girl, a prodigy, her music contributing something to people’s lives,” Morris said when Tushar Thomas ’18 commented on “Rain Come Down,” a story in White Man’s Problems. Morris’s response led to an animated discussion of a fiction writer’s ability to depict an experience he or she has not gone through personally. Morris argued that inhabiting other perspectives is one of the purposes of fiction: “You have to use your imagination.”
“And courage,” added professor Helena María Viramontes.
After the lunch, Anna Ravenelle ’17 said she appreciated being able to talk with a published author, in an intimate setting, about the struggles and triumphs of writing.
“Learning from someone who also works a full-time, highly demanding day job was revealing not only because of his writing advice, but also in how to balance a writing career with, frankly, a job that actually pays the bills,” she said.
Morris said he enjoys coming back to campus to speak with students because he received mentoring himself, from Altschuler.
“When you’re helped so much, the appropriate response is to give back,” he said. “I enjoy it, and I do think about Glenn when I do it.”
Mentor students in your professional field.