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Award-winning playwright, long-time NMSU professor Mark Medoff dies at 79

  • By Minerva Baumann
  • 575-646-7566
  • Apr 24, 2019
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If Mark Medoff’s impact on New Mexico State University and the city of Las Cruces and everyone who knew him could be measured, it would be by the way he lived, the way he taught and the way he wrote – with heart.

Ross Marks, NMSU professor in the Creative Media Institute that Medoff founded, was also Medoff’s son-in-law and close collaborator on recent film projects like “The Heart Outright” in 2017 and “Walking with Herb,” shot in fall 2018.

“Mark died Tuesday April 23 at Mesilla Valley Hospice surrounded by his family. He was very much at peace and surrounded by love,” Marks said. “His life and legacy will continue though his work, thousands of beloved students, and his cherished family who he was utterly devoted to in life and in death.”

Medoff was a Tony Award-winning playwright, Oscar-nominated screenwriter, novelist, theatre and film director, actor, professor, beloved father and husband. For his students and others close to him, Medoff’s death at 79 leaves behind shoes few others could fill.

“All of the NMSU community is saddened to learn of the passing of Aggie legend Mark Medoff. His much lauded work as a playwright, film director and professor, will forever be remembered in our hearts,” said NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu. "The impact he made on our university was profound but we know his legacy will live on through his work and, the countless students that he mentored during his time here. We send our deepest condolences to his wife, Stephanie, and the entire Medoff family.

At age 26, when Medoff arrived in Las Cruces in 1966 to teach at NMSU fresh from Stanford University, he didn’t think he’d stay longer than a year. In an interview for the NMSU Fall 2017 “Panorama” magazine, as he began his 51st year teaching, Medoff said he still loved the classroom and talked about “the power of compassion, of collaboration, of strength in the face of lunacy. I can’t teach students to write, to direct, to act, but I can create an atmosphere in which they can teach themselves.”

Writer Denise Chavez was one of Medoff’s first students in the 1960s. "Mark Medoff was first and foremost, a teacher,” Chavez said. “Not everyone has that innate gift. And he was good at it. When he first moved to New Mexico State, he taught a course in Modern American Fiction. I thank him for introducing me to John Barth, Bernard Malamud, Joseph Heller, and many others in the American Canon of Literature who a small town girl like myself knew little or nothing about. Mark opened up and exploded more than one world for many of us."

During the recent “A Starry Night” gala, former Medoff student in the 1980s Don Foster, an award-winning Hollywood writer and consultant, shared how Medoff gave him confidence. “I was standing there on the other side of Mark’s desk when he uttered the three little words that changed my life: ‘You have potential.’ Right there in that moment I could feel something change. Scientists may know what it means, but I felt something at a molecular level.”

Well-known actor Neil Patrick Harris, chosen by Medoff to star in his film “Clara’s Heart” tweeted his sympathy for Medoff’s family and his gratitude. “He essentially discovered me. I owe my career to him… Without him, I’d be nowhere.”

Amy Lanasa heads NMSU’s Creative Media Institute Medoff founded, and knew first hand what it felt like to receive Medoff’s guidance and collaboration as a student, a faculty member and friend. She spoke to him last week.

“I had the chance to tell him what he meant to me, how important he was in my life,” said Lanasa. “When we first started CMI, during one of our first faculty meetings, we were talking about curriculum. Mark said, ‘It seems to me we could spend years sitting around talking about how to teach filmmaking or we could just go make movies.’ It was what he taught me that keeps me going. I’m the teacher I am because of him. He gave me the answer. You just keep doing the work. He would want us to keep going, to keep teaching, to keep loving.”

A Distinguished Achievement Professor at NMSU, Medoff wrote more than 30 plays, many of which premiered in Las Cruces. He earned numerous awards for his work including a Tony award for his play “Children of a Lesser God,” which enjoyed a Broadway revival starring Joshua Jackson last year.

NMSU President John Floros reached out to the NMSU community to honor Medoff’s contributions to the university.

"Mark was an inspirational creative force at New Mexico State University for over 50 years," Floros said. "His formidable legacy includes faculty service in three departments, including the Creative Media Institute, of which he was a founding member. He co-founded NMSU's American Southwest Theatre Company, and the theatre at the ASNMSU Center for the Arts bears his name and that of his wife, Stephanie.

"Mark Medoff was adored and respected by his students and colleagues here at New Mexico State University. Our condolences and deep sympathy are with his family for the loss of a man whose life impacted so many in our community. What he has given to NMSU can’t be measured in years, or awards. It can only be felt in the hearts of those he touched, who learned from him and will pass on that knowledge and experience to future generations of Aggies."

Medoff’s memorial will be at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 19th at the Mark and Stephanie Medoff Theater at the ASNMSU Center For The Arts.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to the Mark Medoff Visiting Lecture Series at New Mexico State University to honor his memory and legacy. Gifts made payable to the NMSU Foundation can be mailed to the NMSU Foundation, PO Box 3590, Las Cruces, NM 88003-3590. Please indicate on the donation that it is to go to the Mark Medoff Lecture Series, Fund #982761. Gifts can also be made online at, where you can indicate on the pull down menu that you’d like your donation to be directed to the Medoff Lecture Series, Fund #982761.