NEW YORK STATE AUTHOR & NEW YORK STATE POET
August 23, 2023
The New York State Writers Institute proudly announces Jacqueline Woodson has been named the new State Author and Patricia Spears Jones the new State Poet.
The citations, established in 1985 by Governor Mario M. Cuomo and the State Legislature to promote fiction and poetry in New York, are awarded biennially under the aegis of the New York State Writers Institute. Awardees serve for two years in their honorary positions and each receives a $10,000 honorarium.
“It is our honor to carry out this important responsibility of selecting the recipients with the help of a group of jurors,” NYS Writers Institute Opalka Endowed Director Paul Grondahl said. “No other college or university in the nation has this unique mission.”
Woodson will receive the Edith Wharton Citation of Merit for Fiction and Jones will receive the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit for Poetry at a special ceremony hosted by University at Albany President Havidán Rodríguez to take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, at the University at Albany’s Campus Center West Auditorium.
The NYS Author and NYS Poet ceremony serves as the official kickoff event for the 6th Annual Albany Book Festival presented by the NYS Writers Institute. It takes place from 10:30 a.m. through 4:15 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, where Woodson and Jones will appear at an informal conversation at 10:30 a.m. and take questions from the audience in the Campus Center West Auditorium.
With thanks to generous sponsors and donors, these events are free and open to the public and will be held at UAlbany's Uptown Campus, 1400 Washington Avenue. More information at https://www.albanybookfestival.com.
“We offer our heartiest congratulations to Jacqueline Woodson and Patricia Spears Jones,” Grondahl said. “These two outstanding writers with New York roots are worthy recipients of these prestigious honors. We celebrate their singular literary excellence and how each embodies the vitality of the literary arts in New York State.”
The awardees are chosen by panels of jurors, including students, convened by the New York State Writers Institute at the University at Albany.
Both laureates came originally from the American South before putting down deep and lasting roots in New York City. Jacqueline Woodson, one of the most beloved children’s authors of her generation, moved to Brooklyn from Greenville, South Carolina at the age of seven. Patricia Spears Jones, born and raised in Arkansas, came to New York in the 1970s and quickly became a key figure in the poetry community.
New York State Author Jacqueline Woodson, one of the most beloved writers of young people’s literature of her generation, is the author of more than 40 books for readers of all ages.
Woodson is credited with enlarging the scope of literature for children and young adults, addressing issues that were previously neglected in that literature, including poverty, abuse, abandonment, sexuality, sexism, racism, incarceration, generational trauma, racial profiling and the complexities of interracial friendship.
Her classic middle grade memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, won the 2014 National Book Award and the Coretta Scott King Award, and was a New York Times bestseller. In 2021, TIME magazine named it one of the “100 Best YA Books of All Time,” and said, “Jacqueline Woodson’s highly lauded collection of free-verse poems about her childhood in New York and South Carolina, has language simple enough to be accessible to tweens and young teenagers and more than enough complexity to engage older readers.”
Her novel for adults, Another Brooklyn, the story of four young women growing up in Bushwick, Brooklyn in the 1970s, was a National Book Award finalist in 2016 and a New York Times bestseller. People magazine called it, “An engrossing novel about friendship, race, the magic of place and the relentlessness of change,” and Elle said, “Woodson does for young black girls what short story master Alice Munroe does for poor rural ones: She imbues their everyday lives with significance.”
Woodson previously served as the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate (2015-17), and the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature of the Library of Congress (2018-19). She was named a MacArthur “Genius Award” winner in 2020. In bestowing the award, the MacArthur Foundation said, “An inspiration to a new generation of writers, Woodson gives diverse readers an opportunity to see themselves reflected in literature and encourages all readers to look beyond their own experiences and see the beauty in other human beings.”
Photo credit: Sharif Hamza
Photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths
New York State Poet Patricia Spears Jones, a key figure and organizer of the New York City poetry community for more than four decades, is a Brooklyn-based poet and the author of six collections including The Beloved Community (2023), A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems (2015), and The Weather That Kills (1995).
Jones is a poet who shows that the art of poetry can deepen our humanity and strengthen our shared connection; one who understands that art and wisdom—like “the Blues”— are often born of trauma; and one whose poems effectively create community because they are perpetually “in conversation” with other artists and their arts, from music to painting to fashion, film and theatre.
Her work has been anthologized in African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song, and Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry. She is also the co-editor of the groundbreaking 1978 anthology, Ordinary Women: An Anthology of New York City Women Poets.
Cornelius Eady, poet and founder of Cave Canem, the nation’s preeminent Black poets’ organization, said that Jones “has given us a world where music and brains are allowed to co-exist with instinct, where the lyric and the literal may dwell without eyeing the other with suspicion.”
She is the winner of the 2017 Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets & Writers and the recipient of a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Born and raised in Arkansas, and an active literary citizen of New York since her arrival here in the 1970s, Jones served as program coordinator for the world-renowned Poetry Project of St. Mark’s Church and founded the WORDS Sunday series in Brooklyn. She is also a Senior Fellow Emeritus of the Black Earth Institute and founder of the American Poets Congress, a New York-based organization dedicated to finding “a new way of thinking about poetry and connecting it with politics.”
A poet fascinated by the life of New York City, she evokes the city in all its variety and vitality, from the drama of crowded laundromats to a performance by Etta James at the historic Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights.
A celebrated mentor of new generations of younger poets, Patricia Spears Jones has devoted much of her time to the teaching of poetry at colleges, libraries and community organizations throughout New York City and beyond.
The New York State Author award is named for Edith Wharton (1862-1937), widely regarded as one of America’s great novelists. Born in New York City into wealth and social status, she exposed in her darkly elegant fiction the hypocrisies and pressures of New York’s high society, particularly through her examination of the role and conditions of women. Many of Wharton’s works, like The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, and The Age of Innocence, continue to exert a powerful hold on the popular imagination. In a phrase she herself used to describe successful short fiction, her prose is “a shaft driven straight into the heart of experience.”
The New York State Poet award is named for Walt Whitman (1819-1892), the renowned “poet of democracy” born in Huntington, Long Island. More than any American poet of his era, Whitman has had the greatest and most long-lasting influence on American poetry. His masterwork, Leaves of Grass, heralded a new age of innovation in poetry with its absence of rhyme and standard meter and through its abundance of oratorical rhythms. A favorite poet of liberal political movements in 19th-century Europe, Whitman continues to influence poets around the world.
“New York was home to two towering literary figures who are namesakes of these awards: the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit for Poetry and the Edith Wharton Citation of Merit for Fiction,” Grondahl said. “Woodson and Jones join an illustrious group of past recipients, who comprise a pantheon of diverse and exemplary voices. Their writing powerfully depicts the human experience and what it means to be a New Yorker, an American and a citizen of the world.”
State Author and State Poet honorees
Jacqueline Woodson 2023-2025
Patricia Spears Jones 2023-2025