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2023: Year in Review

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As we reflect on 2023, the 40th anniversary of our founding, the overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude.

Our year began with a kickoff celebration and the announcement of a $1 million gift from philanthropists Chet and Karen Opalka that established The Opalka Endowed Directorship of the New York State Writers Institute at the University at Albany. It is the largest gift in our 40-year history. UAlbany President Havidán Rodríguez called it a “transformative gift that assures the continued excellence of the Writers Institute for the next 40 years and beyond.”

“This gift represents our ongoing support of the tremendous work of director Paul Grondahl and his team in bringing the greatest writers from around the world to UAlbany to enrich the cultural life of the Capital Region,” Chet Opalka said.

“It is my honor and a great privilege to hold the title of The Opalka Endowed Director,” Grondahl said. “Chet and Karen inspire me with their philanthropy and I am proud to call them my friends.” (Read more about the Opalka gift.)

We are grateful to the Opalkas and all our generous donors and sponsors. Our thankfulness extends to the UAlbany leadership team and their stalwart support; to our loyal and engaged student and community audiences; to our dedicated interns, graduate assistants, and volunteers; to our supremely talented and committed Writers Institute team members; and to our brilliant visiting writers, poets, journalists, and newsmakers for their challenging, inspiring work.

By any measure, we achieved new levels of excellence in 2023 and continued to develop fresh ideas and innovative approaches to embody the reimagined Writers Institute’s mission statement: “To explore and teach the writing craft; to celebrate diverse voices in all genres; to honor the power of literature as a force for individual growth and social good; and to foster a vibrant community of readers and writers who engage in meaningful dialogue.”

We are proud of our growth and expansion in 2023 and the statistics below tell the story of how we are bringing our acclaimed programming to more people, both in-person and online.

Chet and Karen Opalka presenting $1 million gift that established The Opalka Endowed Directorship of the New York State Writers institute.

Chet and Karen Opalka presenting $1 million gift that established The Opalka Endowed Directorship of the New York State Writers institute.

Charlene Allen quote: Thank you for being amazing hosts for my author visit to Albany! I truly couldn't have asked for lovelier hosts or a better experience."

Special events

Our 3rd annual Albany Film Festival in April drew more than 1,000 film lovers for movie premieres, panel discussions, a short film contest with cash prizes, and presentation of the Ironweed Award for Exemplary Achievement in Film to actor Stephen Lang, film editor Amy Carey Linton, and screenwriters Keith Beauchamp and James Schamus.

Our 6th annual Albany Book Festival in September attracted more than 1,500 attendees who met bestselling authors, enjoyed panel discussions and book signings, and browsed a Local Authors’ Marketplace with nearly 100 local authors and exhibitors.


We also inducted new State Author Jacqueline Woodson and State Poet Patricia Spears Jones at a formal ceremony that kicked off the festival.

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New York Times bestselling author Christopher Paolini at Page Hall in November.

We presented the first marathon public reading of the entire Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Ironweed by William Kennedy, on the 40th anniversary of its publication and 40th anniversary of the NYS Writers Institute that he founded. Members of four partner organizations and 72 volunteers read portions of the Depression-era Albany story across nine hours.

The reading began at the Albany Distilling Co., makers of Ironweed whiskey, and culminated on the stage of Capital Repertory Theatre, where 200 people gave the 95-year-old author a standing ovation after he read his novel’s final chapter. The event raised $4,000 for the food pantry at Sacred Heart Church in the city’s North End, the parish where Kennedy grew up.

Our 5th edition of Telling the Truth brought newsmakers and journalists to Albany in November for enlightening and thought-provoking discussions about the Biden administration, the prospect of a second Trump administration, and the increasingly ominous issue of the politics of revenge and the impulse to punish “out groups” who have made political gains.

Clockwise from top left. 

William Kennedy at the conclusion of our Ironweed reading at Capital Repertory Theatre

Guests stroll through the Local Author Marketplace at the Albany Book Festival

The book signing following our Telling the Truth Symposium

Musician and author Susanna Hoffs speaks with WAMC's Joe Donahue at a Creative Life Conversation

Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo reads from his novel Somebody’s Fool at the UAlbany Performing Arts Center

  • 12,750 attended 75 events, nearly all free and open to the public

  • 42,841 visits to our website from 45 countries, a 20% increase in visits to our website

  • YouTube channel subscribers increased to 8,559 and viewers watched our events more than 570,000 times

  • Topped 5,000 recipients of our email newsletters, an 11% increase since 2022. Sign up below.

  • a 198% increase in visits to our Facebook page

  • an 18% increase in traffic to our website from Google

Visits to by country

Reaching out to a wider audience

“That's the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.” – Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri

Increasing our engagement with the community

PARTNERSHIPS: In 2023, we increased our collaborations with new initiatives that included more than 60 organizations, including those on the UAlbany campus, across the Capital Region, and in New York City.

We completed the first year of a five-year grant from the Carl E. Touhey Foundation to create a therapeutic journaling program with experienced teachers who help at-risk teenagers find healing and healthy responses to trauma through creative expression.


The program is in four locations and has assisted more than 100 youths, including visits by scholar-athletes from the UAlbany men’s basketball team, who serve as mentors.

UAlbany men's basketball player and journaling mentor Justin Neely (third from left) at Hood's House of Hoops in Albany earlier this month. 

A sampling of our collaborators

UAlbany men's basketball player and journaling mentor Justin Neely (third from left) at Hood's House of Hoops in Albany earlier this month. 

  • Albany Black Chamber of Commerce

  • Albany Times Union

  • Capital Region Women@Work

  • Capital Repertory Theatre

  • The Center for Law & Justice

  • Colonie Senior Service Center

  • Film Albany

  • Historic Albany Foundation

  • Historical Society of the New York Courts

  • Irish American Heritage Museum

  • The Justice Center of Rensselaer County

  • New York State Archives Partnership Trust

  • New York State Bar Association

  • New York State Museum

  • Shaker Pointe Retirement Community

  • Skidmore College

  • The Internships in Aging Project

  • The University at Albany Foundation

  • University at Albany Art Museum

  • UAlbany Environmental Humanities Lab

  • UAlbany’s Honors College

  • UAlbany’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion

  • UAlbany's Theatre Program

  • UAlbany Performing Arts Center

In memoriam

We bid our farewells to two beloved members of the Writers Institute family in 2023. We are grateful for how their lives enriched us and our organization. 

Dana and William Kennedy

Dana Kennedy, wife for 66 years of William Kennedy, died on September 29 at age 88 after a seven-year struggle with Alzheimer’s

She had been a Broadway dancer, ran a dance studio and women’s clothing boutique, served as her husband’s muse,
and was the matriarch of a family that includes

Grayce Burian

Grayce Burian was a UAlbany alumna, actor, director, educator, artist, memoirist and philanthropist who
died on November 16
at age 96 after a long

She earned her B.A. and M.A. from UAlbany, where her late husband, Jarka Burian, was a longtime
theatre professor. The couple established the Burian Lecture series, which has

seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Dana was a gracious, engaging woman who attended countless Writers Institute events with her husband across the decades. 

brought leading theatre scholars and practitioners to campus for a quarter-century, and her endowment gift to the Writers Institute will ensure its continued success.

Celebrating literature with your support

Celebrate literature and great conversations by supporting vital NYS Writers Institute programming.

Designate your tax-deductible gift online or by sending a check to made out to:

The University at Albany Foundation
PO Box 761, Albany, NY 12201

Write “NYS Writers Institute” in the memo section

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