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Award-Winning Author Marlo Kirkpatrick: “Ole Miss Was The Perfect Place For Me”

screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-1-57-02-pmEven as a child, Marlo Carter Kirkpatrick (’86) knew she was destined to become a writer.

“Honestly, my career chose me,” Kirkpatrick said. “I knew from the time I was 11 years old that I wanted to be a writer, and I had teachers as far back as elementary school who encouraged me to pursue that dream. A few years later, I was that high school student who baffled all her classmates because I actually enjoyed writing term papers.”

A Memphis native, Kirkpatrick was the daughter of an Ole Miss alumnus and grew up in a house she described as furnished in “Hotty Toddy décor.”

“I never seriously considered going to college anywhere other than Ole Miss, especially when I realized that Ole Miss had an outstanding journalism department,” Kirkpatrick said. “It was the perfect place for me academically and personally.”

Kirkpatrick earned degrees in journalism and English.

“Once I got past all the freshman required classes, like the dreaded college algebra, and focused only on my journalism and English degrees, school was fun for me,” Kirkpatrick said. “The work I did to earn my journalism degree was exciting and challenging, and earning my English degree meant a lot of reading, which to me was like participating in one fascinating book club after another.”

Outside of the classroom, Kirkpatrick kept busy preparing for a television news career.

“I was one of several students who reported for and anchored the student newscast, known back then as ‘Tel-O-Miss News.’ I would love to see some of those old newscasts if they still exist on VHS tapes somewhere,” Kirkpatrick said.

She also made lasting connections and memories. The University of Mississippi holds a special place in Kirkpatrick’s heart.

“For me, the Ole Miss ‘mystique’ is a very real thing,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s a special place, and I feel a deep connection to the people who shared it with me when we were all young adults there together.”

After graduating from Ole Miss, Kirkpatrick worked in television news, public relations and advertising. In 1995, she launched her own advertising agency while also working as a freelance writer. Today, she is a partner with Kirkpatrick & Porch Creative, an advertising agency in Madison, Mississippi, and continues to work as a freelance writer. While Kirkpatrick has worked in different variations of writing-related jobs, she has always focused on her one true talent.

“I can say quite truthfully that writing is my only real talent,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’m terrible in math, I can’t carry a tune, I was always the last kid picked for the kickball team, and I certainly can’t cook. Let’s just say the list of everything I can’t do is pretty extensive, but writing tops the limited list of what I know I can do well.”

Kirkpatrick attributes a great deal of her early success as a writer to her time with The Ramey Agency, where she worked as senior writer. Steven Hicks, the advertising agency’s creative director at the time, recalled observing Kirkpatrick’s growth as a writer.

“The first time I read Marlo’s copy, I knew nothing about her beyond the fact that she wrote with both wit and grace,” Hicks said. “Twenty-some years later, she remains one of the most clever writers with whom I have ever had the pleasure to work. Her work has the ability to translate advertising copy into compelling, person-to-person writing for the reader. To this day, I can tell when Marlo has written a piece of copy because her unique writer’s voice bursts through the page and into my mind. She is first and foremost an exceptional talent.”

While Kirkpatrick makes her home in Mississippi, her work has taken her far beyond the state’s borders. Magazine and writing assignments have led Kirkpatrick to Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Canada, throughout the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, and other places she never dreamed she’d see when she was a student in Farley Hall.

“Of all the gifts my career has given me, one of the greatest is that I’ve had the opportunity to travel,” Kirkpatrick said. “Those experiences have made me realize how much I love exploring other countries and cultures and sharing those experiences with readers.”

Her most influential experience abroad was falling in love with her husband, Stephen Kirkpatrick, a professional wildlife and nature photographer. The two met while collaborating on a book project, and fell in love on a writing and photography expedition in the Amazon rain forest.

“When you fall in love in the Amazon, it is really love,” Kirkpatrick said. “Between the bug bites, the sweat, the dirt, and the lack of running water or electricity, I was not at my most attractive. We were married a year later at Machu Picchu, Peru. At least I think we’re married — the mayor of Machu Picchu presided over the nuptials, which were all in Spanish. I struggled through four semesters of Spanish at Ole Miss, but I’m still not quite sure what he said.”

The Amazon rain forest not only inspired Kirkpatrick’s marriage but also one of her favorite projects.

“‘Romancing the Rain’ is a coffee table book of Stephen’s Amazon photography and my writing,” Kirkpatrick said. “The photos are of the Amazon, but the text of the book is about the nature of love. It sounds like a disconnect, but it works beautifully in practice. ‘Romancing the Rain’ is my favorite of all the books I’ve written, both because the book itself is a beautiful project and also because of the personal connection I have with the Amazon as the place where I fell in love with my husband.”

Kirkpatrick has also had the opportunity to tell a variety of stories as the writing partner in Kirkpatrick & Porch Creative.

“Marlo has a gift for not just writing, but for relating to people so that she may share their stories with an emotion that stirs something deep inside the reader,” said Alecia Porch, a graphic designer and Kirkpatrick’s business partner.

“When presenting ideas, whether it be a TV or video script, a new branding concept, or simply copy for a print ad, Marlo’s beautiful wordsmithing has literally brought our clients to tears,” Porch continued. “Her ability to capture raw emotion and put it into words is something our clients look forward to and have come to expect. I am inspired by her words when I approach a design project. The caliber of her creative writing takes my design to another level. I am blessed to work with such a gifted storyteller.”

Kirkpatrick has written nine books, including Lost in the Amazon, Mississippi Off the Beaten Path and It Happened in Mississippi, and contributes to several magazines as a freelance writer. Her work has garnered more than 250 awards for writing and creative excellence in advertising. She has earned the title of the Jackson Advertising Federation’s Writer of the Year five times and is the recipient of the National Outdoor Book Award, the International Self-Published Book Award and three Southeastern Press Association Book of the Year Awards.

Kirkpatrick also has donated her time and writing skills to several charities.

“The projects where Marlo has given her time pro bono are most remarkable,” Porch said.

“Marlo has given her talent as a writer to organizations like MadCAAP (Madison Countians Allied Against Poverty).”

For the HOPE Today Capital Campaign for MadCAAP, Marlo spent time with several underprivileged families who were served by this organization. She was able to meet with the families in their homes and came to know them on a personal level.

“The relationships she formed were crucial to her being able to tell their stories in a video and brochure, which raised over $500,000 to construct a new education and resource center in Madison County,” Porch said “I remember that Marlo brought one of the children a fishing pole as a gift on a return visit. Acts of kindness like those are something that people will never forget. More than just reporting a story, she made a difference in the little boy’s life by showing that she cared for him and his family.”

Kirkpatrick said her job “has allowed me to meet and interview so many interesting people — a Secret Service agent, a celebrity chef, a face transplant surgeon, the inventor of the self-driving car, and all kinds of ‘ordinary’ people who have found themselves in extraordinary situations and done incredible things.

“While in Jordan working for the Jordan Tourism Bureau, I was baptized in the Jordan River at the same spot where John the Baptist baptized Jesus,” she continued. “I also had unforgettable experiences in Haiti, where I was sent to write about a mission project and witnessed both despair and hope on a level I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world. On a magazine assignment to Botswana, I held hands with AIDS orphans and had an unforgettable encounter with a baby elephant.”

“In Honduras, I snorkeled with whale sharks, a trip that began as a vacation but that might turn into a magazine article. I’ve been so blessed to have a career I love that’s taken me to so many different places and introduced me to so many fascinating people,” she said. “I honestly never have a boring day.”

The author Elizabeth Blackstock is a sophomore, integrated marketing communications major from Marietta, Georgia. Photo by Robby Followell.

The Meek School Magazine is a collaborative effort of journalism and Integrated Marketing Communications students with the faculty of Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Every week, for the next few weeks, HottyToddy.com will feature an article from Meek Magazine, Issue 4 (2016-2017).

For questions or comments, email us at hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

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