KENNESAW, Ga. | Apr 8, 2021
While he was vice president of research and development at a Marietta medical device company, Michael Lipoma was rewriting his life’s script when he enrolled in Kennesaw State University’s Master of Arts in Professional Writing (MAPW) program in 2005.
“I’d been in engineering for 20 years or so — engineering design — and screenwriting was something I had always wanted to do and aspired to do. I made a couple of feeble attempts at a screenplay. But I realized I needed an education,” Lipoma said. After graduating in 2008 from KSU, he left Georgia after 17 years to move back to his native Southern California prepared to chase his dream.
The KSU education, along with experience he gained as both a writer and producer since graduation has paid off for Lipoma. The International Screenwriters Association named him to its “Top 25 Screenwriters to Watch in 2021” list.
It was a drama-comedy pilot script that includes much of his own life experience that put him on the ISA’s radar, Lipoma said. “F-You! I’m a Teacher,” is about a California native with Tourette syndrome who moves to Georgia to teach at a rural school. While in Georgia, Lipoma took a four-year break from engineering to teach at a small country school. In the script, because of having Tourette syndrome, the teacher cannot be fired if he yells an obscenity in class. He’s popular with students, but a concern for most of the adults in the community.
“For years everybody has been bugging me to write about Tourette syndrome. I’ve always said I don’t want to be the guy who writes about Tourette, because I’ve got Tourette. But a year ago I decided to do it,” Lipoma said. The main character in the screenplay “has to learn about his own prejudices and his own privilege … and navigates the world of Tourette syndrome in a small community,” he said.
The ISA honor comes after Lipoma and co-writer Tamra Teig won both Best Feature and the overall grand prize at the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival, where more than 4,200 screenplays were entered. Variety described the screenplay as “a historical drama set in East Berlin in 1989, where a single mother is forced to become a spy to save her son after he’s framed for murder. Her act of revenge, woven into historic events, leads to the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
Lipoma said the education he received at KSU provided a foundation for his success.
Professor of creative writing Tony Grooms, who is director of the MAPW program, remembers Lipoma as a serious, focused student, who sought out advice on his work to make it better. He also gave feedback to other students to help them become better writers.
Associate professor of English Aaron Levy said Lipoma was eager to learn all he could to develop his craft.
“He had some life behind him when he came in,” Levy said of Lipoma, who was 54 when he completed the MAPW program. “He was not just going through the motions. He was working hard, so he came every week with pages. He had the work ethic that a writer needs to have.”
Lipoma credits the creative atmosphere nurtured by Grooms, Levy and others for the quality of the education he received in the MAPW program, which made him ready for his new career.
“After a couple of screenwriting classes ... I realized I needed to get as much out of every syllable as I possibly could in screenwriting and so I took a couple of poetry classes,” Lipoma said. “And I figured that would allow me to do just that — to distill my words. And I still look back on those classes as important in my development as a screenwriter.”
– Gary Tanner
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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 43,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.