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Historical  Highlights



Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist William Kennedy founded the Writers Institute at Albany with part of a fellowship awarded him from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.  As part of that award, fifteen thousand dollars for five years went to the institution of Kennedy’s choice, the University at Albany, State University of New York. The University made a commitment to match those funds in order to establish a visiting writers series.


 Inaugural Visiting Writer Event with Nobel Prize-winning novelist Saul Bellow on April 26. Toni Morrison became the second speaker in our history when a packed audience greeted her in the Campus Center Ballroom on September 13. See the NYS Writers Institute archives.

Governor Mario M. Cuomo signed into law the legislation creating the New York State Writers Institute, giving it goals and responsibilities to conduct a broad range of cultural and educational literary activities. The Writers Institute has a mandate to provide "a milieu for established and aspiring writers to work together to increase the freedom of the artistic imagination," and "to encourage the development of writing skills at all levels of education throughout the state." Tom Smith, UAlbany English Department professor worked with Kennedy in the organization and development of the Writers Institute and served as the Institute’s. 


 By special legislative mandate, the Institute was given the responsibility of awarding both the Edith Wharton Citation of Merit for Fiction Writers (State Author) and the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit for Poets (State Poet) every two years. The Governor awards each citation upon the recommendation of two advisory panels of distinguished authors convened under the aegis of the Institute.


The first New York State Author and New York State Poet citations were awarded to Grace Paley and Stanley Kunitz.

"The Cotton Club" co-scripted by William Kennedy with Francis Ford Coppola.



Inception of New York State Summer Writers InstituteThe Institute entered into a partnership with Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY to sponsor the New York State Summer Writers Institute, a month-long series of creative writing courses in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, translation, and editing.

World premiere of "Ironweed." The Writers Institute hosted the world premiere of the movie, "Ironweed" at Albany's Palace Theatre on December 12. Based on William Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel—with the screenplay also written by Kennedy—the film was shot in and around Albany. The film was directed by Hector Babenco and starred Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep, who both were nominated for Oscars for their roles.



The Birth of Black Cinema: A three-day symposium on the distinct burst of African-American image-making from the 1960s to present, featuring filmmakers and critics Toni Cade Bambara, St. Clair Bourne, Haile Gerima, Spike Lee, James Snead and Hortense Spillers. Cosponsored with the University at Albany Schweitzer Chair, Toni Morrison.

Initiation of the Albany Showcase Series featuring readings by Albany area writers. The Institute provided the resources to outfit Page Hall on the UAlbany downtown campus with 35 mm film projection equipment in order to establish a Classic Film Series — weekly Friday night screenings of rare films, contemporary international offerings, classics made in the U.S. and abroad, as well as pre-release screenings from major studios. Film Note Index



The Institute significantly increased its public outreach by creating "The Book Show." Coproduced by WAMC-FM, Albany's National Public Radio affiliate, The Book Show was a weekly half-hour interview program featuring some of the most celebrated names in literature. Initially hosted by Tom Smith (1984-94), and then by novelist and short story writer Douglas Glover (1994-95), The Book Show is heard on over 26 stations throughout the United States, Australia, and on the Armed Forces Network.


 New York State Author and New York State Poet Awards Ceremony. The Institute named E. L. Doctorow New York State Author and Robert Creely New York State Poet at a special ceremony at the NYS Capitol.


Telling the Truth: A Symposium on the Craft of Nonfiction: This symposium, termed a once-in-a-lifetime event by panelists and attendees alike, assembled 37 of the country's most noted nonfiction writers for a three-day series of presentations and panel discussions. Among the speakers were Maureen Dowd, James Fallows, Timothy Ferris, Frances FitzGerald, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Mary GordonStephen Jay Gould, Patricia Limerick, J. Anthony Lukas, Norman Mailer, David McCullough, Richard Rhodes, Gay Talese, Calvin Trillin, Juan Williams and Garry Wills.

New York State Author and New York State Poet Awards Ceremony: The Institute named Norman Mailer New York State Author and Audre Lorde New York State Poet at a special ceremony at the New York State Capitol.


New York State Author and New York State Poet Awards Ceremony. The Institute named William Gaddis, New York State Author and Richard Howard, New York State Poet at a special ceremony at the New York State Capitol.


The World, The Word, and The Future.  A critical evaluation of the current status and possible futures of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and the issues facing each art form. Participants included Hayden Carruth, Maureen Howard, Simon Schama, and Patricia Williams, among others.


Following the untimely death of the Institute's Associate Director Tom SmithDonald Faulkner joined the Institute, first as Associate Director, and then as Director.

Women, Multiculturalism, and the Avant Garde. A weekend symposium featuring panel discussions and readings exploring the aesthetic of each and what they have to offer each other.

New York State Author and New York State Poet Awards Ceremony. The Institute named Peter Matthiessen New York State Author and Jane Cooper New York State Poet at a special ceremony at the New York State Capitol.



The Business of Writing. A round table discussion of the business aspects of the publishing industry that focused on how a manuscript makes its way from the writers' desk to the bookstores, a process often a mystery to aspiring and published writers alike. Featuring Dosier Hammond, Marketing Director, W.W. Norton & Company; Bill Henderson, founder of Pushcart Press; Barbara Jones, Senior Features Editor, Vogue Magazine; Sally Anne McCartin, publicist, McCartin Associates; Susan Novotny, owner/buyer, The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza; Rebecca Saletan, Vice President and Senior Editor, Simon & Schuster Adult Trade Division; Chuck Verrill, Literary Agent.

African-American Autobiography.  Readings and discussions by Veronica ChambersClifton Taulbert, Shirlee Taylor HaizlipBell Hooks, and Arnold Rampersad on such topics as the vitures and values of autobiography, the historical importance of African-American autobiography, biography verses autobiography, and African-American autobiography as an art form.

The Institute launches its website with event schedule information and updates, visiting writer profiles, film notes, and an online magazine.



Inaugural Burian Lecture with Marvin A.Carlson, in Co-sponsorship with UAlbany Theatre Department: This yearly event brings leading scholars and practitioners of the art of the theatre to the Albany campus. Funded by Jarka and Grayce Susan Burian, two of the Capital District's leading theatrical educators and artists, the lecture honors Dr. Burian's long and influential service at the University.

In partnership with the Capital Region’s PBS affiliate WMHT, the Institute expanded "The Book Show" into a regular public television program, "The Writer."  This weekly half-hour series of video portraits focused on writers who were guests of the Institute.



New York State Author and New York State Poet Awards Ceremony: The Institute named James Salter, New York State Author and Sharon Olds,  New York State Poet at a special ceremony at the NYS Capitol.


Nonfiction: The State of the Art. Four of America's leading nonfiction writers—Joel Achenbach, Susan Orlean, Lawrence Weschler, and JoAnn Wypijewski—discussed feature writing, commercialism, censorship, and editorial standards in a wide-ranging panel discussion.

Annual Associated Writing Programs Conference in Albany. As part of the AWP conference events the Institute sponsored a series of programs including the keynote address by Frank McCourt; readings on Writing and Healing by Donald Faulkner and Richard Selzer; a panel discussion The Writer at Film Writer, the Director as Auteur, with Russell BanksWilliam Kennedy and Scott Spencer; and a special symposium on the work of William Kennedy.

Inaugural New York State Summer Young Writers Institute, a week-long writing workshop for New York State high school students.



A New York State of Mind.  Four award-winning writers—Russell BanksMary GordonWilliam Kennedy, and Meg Wolitzer—discuss how they have used the history, landscape, and popular culture of New York as their muse for crafting some of the best contemporary fiction in America. Cosponsored by the New York Council for the Humanities.


New York State Author and New York State Poet Awards Ceremony. The Institute named Kurt Vonnegut, New York State Author and John Ashbery, New York State Poet at a special ceremony at the NYS Capitol.

Novelist and short story writer Edward Schwarzschild joined the Institute staff with a dual appointment in the University at Albany’s English Department, to assist with program development and to teach a course based on the work of Institute visiting writers each semester. 



Celebrating 20 Years of the Writers Institute. UAlbany's College of Arts and Sciences sponsored "The Writing Semester" in honor of the Institute's 20th anniversary. 

New York State Author and New York State Poet Awards Ceremony: The Institute named Russell Banks, New York State Author and Billy Collins, New York State Poet at a special ceremony at the NYS Capitol.



9th Annual Burian Lecture featuring Ruby Dee.

W. Langdon Brown, who had served as Chair of the UAlbany Theatre Department for many years, joined the Institute to direct the Authors Theatre program.



Women’s Voices Illuminating Cultures in Conflict. Journalist and women’s rights activist Ann Jones, Iranian-American author Nahid Rachlin, and South African-born novelist and poet Yvette Christianse presented seminars and readings on their work which explores cultures in conflict.


Celebration of Chinese Culture. In conjunction with UAlbany's "China Semester," the Institute hosted appearances by China scholar and author Jonathan Spence, poet and memorist Kang Zhengguo, playwright Elizabeth Wong, and memorist Da Chen.

The New York State Writers Institute along with UAlbany proudly announced a new partnership with Fence, a biannual journal of poetry, fiction, criticism, and art, and Fence Books, a literary press publishing fiction, poetry, and critical texts.



Associated Writing Programs Conference (AWP) — The Writers Institute participated in the annual AWP Conference, which was held in New York City on January 30 - February 2, by sponsoring three readings/panel discussions and hosting a reception.

New York State Author and New York State Poet Awards Ceremony. The Institute named Mary Gordon, New York State Author and Jean Valentine, New York State Poet at a special ceremony at the NYS Capitol.

PEN World Voices: Festival of International Literature. For the first time ever PEN World Voices and the Writers Institute joined together to present an exciting line up of writers from around the globe. The Institute hosted readings by Nuruddin Farah of Somalia, Horacio Castellanos Moya of El Salvador, and Chenjerai Hove of Zimbabwe. 



The Institute celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 2009 with a special event featuring former New York State Governor Mario Cuomo, who signed the legislation creating the Writers Institute, and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, a frequent guest of the Institute over the years. Other program highlights throughout 2009 included appearances by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman; Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy award-winning performer Rita Moreno; Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Richard Russo and Douglas Blackmon; Booker Prize winner Peter Carey; National Book Award winner Annette Gordon-Reed; and Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney


Authors Theatre Women Playwrights of the Early 20th Century, American Place Theatre performance of Three Cups of Tea, Authors Theatre: Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis. American Place Theatre performance of The Glass Castle.


American Place Theatre presented a one-person theatrical adaptation of Junot Díaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, 15th Annual Burian Lecture with John Patrick Shanley. A celebration of Afro-Caribbean poet Aimé Césaire, A celebration of Gonzalo Torrente Ballester.


Slavery by Another NamePerforming Voices of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, Authors Theatre with playwright, Denis Johnson.

New York State Author and Poet Awards and Reading. The institute named Alison Lurie, New York State Author 2012-2014 and Marie Howe, New York State Poet 2012-2014.


Joint reading with  New York State Poet, Marie Howe and Vermont Poet Laureate,  Sydney Lea; lecture by William Kennedy in celebration of the 40th anniversary of UAlbany’s Journalism Program; talk by U.S. Congressman Luis Gutierrez, author of the autobiography Still Dreaming: My Journey from the Barrio to Capitol Hill; special series “Women Writers of the Middle East,” cosponsored with UAlbany’s Office of International Education.


Conversation and book signing with U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, author of Off the Sidelines, cosponsored with The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza; special series “Looking at Lemon: Transforming Life Through Literature,” cosponsored by UAlbany  Foundation, Performing Arts Center, and University Art Museum.


Appearance by Bill Nye “The Science Guy” in partnership with UAlbany Student Association; William A. Wellman Film Festival.


Special series “Eyes on Zora: The Life and Legacy of Zora Heale Hurston,” including a film screening, children’s workshops on African American Folktales, and American Place Theatre’s performance of "Zora!;" Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration speaker Carlotta Walls LaNier; inauguration ceremony for New York State Author, Edmund White and New York State Poet, Yusef Komunyakaa; 20th Annual Burian Lecture with Tony Award-winning theatre director Pam McKinnon, funded by the Jarka and Grayce Burian Endowment.
Inaugural events in “The Creative Life: A Conversation Series at UAlbany,” created and produced by the Writers Institute, University Art Museum, and Performing Arts Center, in collaboration with WAMC Public Radio, featuring prolific author Joyce Carol Oates, and award-winning tap dancer and choreographer Savion Glover; special series “The New Americans: Recent Immigrant Experiences in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Film,” with appearances by authors Imbolo MbueAnne Fadiman, and filmmaker Mary Mazzio.


University at Albany Speaker Series with Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court;  William Faulkner Award winner Robert Coover; author and naturalist Diane Ackerman; The Creative Life: A Conversation Series at UAlbany events with jazz violinist Regina Carter and painter David Salle; novelist David Ebershoff, 21st Annual Burian Lecture with playwright Dael Orlandersmith; Emmy Award-wining documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson; historian; and author Douglas BrinkleyComplete schedule."Telling the Truth in a Post-Truth World"two-day symposium, moderated by CBS News veteran Bob Schieffer featuring 30 acclaimed journalists, authors, historians, and First Amendment scholars; “The Creative Life: A Conversation Series at UAlbany” event with two-time Newbery Medal winner Lois Lowry; author and historian Russell Shorto; Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Doug Wright; 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tyehimba Jess; legendary New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast and cartoon editor Bob MankoffComplete schedule.


The NYS Writers Institute Albany Book Festival hosted at the University at Albany featured author and Writers Institute founder William Kennedy; Wicked author Gregory Maguire; Gold Star Father Khizr Khan; historian Doris Kearns Goodwin; mystery novelist Walter Mosley; among other authors.  The Book Festival also featured an activity room where children could create fun projects as well as compete to be in Skribblers Magazine, a publication written by children in the Capital Region.


Visiting writers in our Spring season include Steven Pinker, Susan Orlean, Richard Russo, T.C. Boyle, and Tom Junod, among others. The Art of Songwriting performance and discussion event brings the Writers Institute to a new musical audience; Broadway star and Albany-born Charlayne Woodard; the University at Albany recognized the NYS Writers Institute today with a President's Award for Exemplary Public Engagement; the Second Annual Albany Book Festival, held Saturday, Sept. 14, at the UAlbany Campus Center, featured Joyce Carol Oates, Jamaica Kincaid, Dani Shapiro, Eric Foner and Harold Holzer, among others. Other Fall season events featured our first-evet "Writers Institute in NYC" event featuring Beth Macy (author of Dopesick), Dan Rather, Ijeoma Oluo, Nikki Giovanni, a sold-out special event with legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. and our season-ending event with Salman Rushdie.


Our 2020 Spring season was billed as "35 Events in 15 Weeks." We kicked off the year with a Tribute to Toni Morrison featuring a panel discussion and a screening of the documentary "The Pieces I Am." Other notable spring event include a standing-room only Creative Life Conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri, sportswriter and author Rick Reilly, journalist and essayist Wesley Yang, and Scott Simon, beloved host of NPR’s "Weekend Edition." COVID-19 shut down in-person events starting on Friday, March 13, and we pivoted quickly on that weekend to converting our website to "The Conversation," a blog with daily posts featuring recorded interviews, essays, and news items from the publishing/literature world. 


Our Albany Film Festival included online interviews and the presentation of Ironweed Awards to directors James Ivory, Kasi Lemmons, Darnell Martin, actor Rosie Perez, and editor Samuel Pollard. In-person events included the (rainy) Night At the Drive-In and "Passages," a three-day projection mapping event displayed on the 195-foot wide by 45-foot high wall of the UAlbany Science Library. In the Fall, we presented a a full slate of events. While some events were online, most were in-person, including our 4th Annual Albany Book Festival featuring induction of  NYS Author Ayad Akhtar and NYS Poet Willie Perdomo, Piasecki Award winner Daniel Sherrell, discussions with writers Nathaniel Philbrick, Simon Winchester, Mary Gaitskill, Peter Osnos, Elizabeth Brunduge, and Garth Greenwell among others.


Other Fall events included a conversation with NYS Attorney General Letitia James and former NYS Attorney General Robert Abrams, and online conversation with Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna, Creative Life conversations with Ruth ReichlRoxane Gay and Debbie Millman, an evening with Temple Grandin, and a season-ending event with Russell Banks and William Kennedy.


We kicked off our 39th year with an event featuring Alice Green, founder and executive director of Albany’s Center for Law and Justice, and author of the memoir We Who Believe in Freedom: Activism and the Struggle for Social Justice. Large crowds attended events for Huma Abedin, political strategist and vice chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and the author of the new memoir Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds (2021); Anthony Ray Hinton, who spent 30 years on death row in Alabama for a crime he did not commit; Irish novelist Colm Tóibín in conversation with Lynn Tillman; and in collabration with RPI, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Colson Whitehead. We also collaborated with Capital Rep for a conversation with playwright Sharr White discussing his Albany-based play "The True."


Our 2nd Annual Albany Film Festival in April and 5th Annual Albany Book Festival in September brought thousands of attendees to the UAlbany campus. In the fall, we brought bestselling children's and YA author Kwame Alexander to Albany schools and gave away hundreds of copies of his new book The Door of No Return. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, spoke before a standing room only audience at the College of Saint Rose in Albany. Other notables fall events featured nonfiction writer and art critic Lucy Sante; American Book Award-winning poet Carolyn Forché, the 4th edition of our “Telling the Truth” conversations; and beloved star of "Little House on the Prairie" actor Melissa Gilbert, (pictured below), author of the memoir Back on the Prairie. We closed our season with a event featuring Emmy Award winning news anchor/reporter John Gray in conversation with Paul Grondahl about his novel Chasing Rome.

Our origin story is a humble one. It began in 1983 on the campus of the University at Albany. Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist William Kennedy, our founder, recalls we started with no office, no money, and no name. Our modest beginnings improved when Kennedy donated a portion of his MacArthur “genius” grant to create what he called the “Writers Institute” and brought Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow as our first visiting author. 

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