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 places 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.
Jacqueline Woodson's memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, won the 2014 National Book Award and was a New York Times bestseller. Her novel, Another Brooklyn, was a National Book Award finalist and an Indie Pick in 2016.
Among her many awards, Woodson is a two-time recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award and a four-time recipient of the Newbery Medal. She has also been honored with the Kurt Vonnegut Award, the Langston Hughes Medal, and the Hans Christian Andersen Medal. In 2020, she was named a MacArthur Fellow. She is the author of more than 40 books for young people and adults including Each Kindness, If You Come Softly, Locomotion and I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This.
She served as Young People’s Poet Laureate (2015-17), and the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature of the Library of Congress (2018-19). She lives with her family in Brooklyn.
Patricia Spears Jones is a Brooklyn-based poet and the author of six collections, including The Beloved Community (2023) and A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems (2015). 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. Jones 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. An active literary citizen of New York for more than four decades, Jones served as program coordinator for The 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.”
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
State Author Jacqueline Woodson 2023-2025 Ayad Akhtar 2021-2023 Colson Whitehead, 2018-2021 Edmund White, 2014-2016 Alison Lurie, 2012-2014 Mary Gordon, 2008-2010 Russell Banks, 2004-2008 Kurt Vonnegut, 2001-2003 James Salter, 1998-2000 Peter Matthiessen, 1995-1997 William Gaddis, 1993-1995 Norman Mailer, 1991-1993 E. L. Doctorow, 1989-1991 Grace Paley,1986-1988 State Poet Patricia Spears Jones 2023-2025 Willie Perdomo, 2021-2023 Alicia Ostriker, 2018-2021 Yusef Komunyakaa, 2014-2016 Marie Howe, 2012-2014 Jean Valentine, 2008-2010 Billy Collins, 2004-2006 John Ashbery, 2001-2003 Sharon Olds, 1998-2000 Jane Cooper, 1995-1997 Richard Howard, 1993-1995 Audre Lorde, 1991-1993 Robert Creely, 1989-1991 Stanley Kunitz,1986-1988