NYS WRITERS INSTITUTE:
WHO WE ARE
Our mission is 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 invite you to join the conversation.
WILLIAM KENNEDY, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist William Kennedy is the founder and executive director of the New York State Writers Institute. For some 40 years, Kennedy has used his hometown of Albany, New York as the inspiration for his work, crafting history and memory into an “Albany of the imagination.”
His novels include Changó’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes (2011), Roscoe (2002), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award; The Flaming Corsage (1996); Very Old Bones (1992); Quinn’s Book (1988); Ironweed (1983), which received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game (1978); Legs (1975); and The Ink Truck (1969). Kennedy has also written two nonfiction books, O Albany! (1983), and Riding the Yellow Trolley Car (1993), the play Grand View (1996) as well as the screenplay for the The Cotton Club (1986) and Ironweed (1987)
In 1983 Kennedy was awarded the MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant. In 2017, he was elected to the New York State Writers Hall of Fame, and in 2018, he traveled to Dublin to receive the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for his writings about the Irish-American experience. More.
PAUL GRONDAHL, OPALKA ENDOWED DIRECTOR
Paul Grondahl began his position in February 2017. He is the third director in the Writers Institute’s 36-year history. Grondahl is an author and an award-winning journalist who worked at the Albany Times Union for 32 years, starting in 1984, and he continues to write a weekly column for the newspaper. He is the recipient of numerous state and national writing prizes, including the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Award for Feature Reporting for a series on transgender people and the Scripps Howard National Journalism Award for a project on the impact of HIV/AIDS that took him to Malawi in Africa.
Grondahl's books include Mayor Corning: Albany Icon, Albany Enigma (1997), I Rose like a Rocket: The Political Education of Theodore Roosevelt (2004), and with Suzanne Lance, co-edited Bootlegger of the Soul: The Literary Legacy of William Kennedy (2018). He earned a master’s degree in English at the University at Albany in 1984 and he was honored in 2005 as a distinguished alumnus in arts and letters by the UAlbany Alumni Association.
In January 2023, a $1 million gift from area philanthropists Chet and Karen Opalka established "The Opalka Endowed Directorship of the New York State Writers Institute (NYSWI) at the University at Albany."
MARK KOPLIK, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
Assistant Director Mark Koplik has worked at the Writers Institute since 1993. He creates a wide range of events for the Institute’s two signature programs, the Visiting Writers Series and the Classic Film Series.
He enjoys working with University and community partners to bring the best writers in all fields to the University and the region. He holds degrees in English and American Literature from Yale and Brandeis.
JENNIFER KOWALSKI, PROGRAM COORDINATOR
Program coordinator Jennifer Kowalski joined the Writers Institute in 2017. She previously worked in sales and marketing at Hachette Book Group, a commercial trade book publisher in New York City. Hachette’s imprints include Little, Brown and Company and Perseus. She coordinated author events and the publisher’s presence at national and regional bookseller conferences.
Kowalski also managed account marketing efforts for adult and children’s books to independent bookstores nationwide and helped launch the annual Hachette Book Club Brunch event.Kowalski earned a bachelor’s degree in English at UAlbany and a master’s degree in publishing from Pace University in New York.
MICHAEL HUBER, COMMUNICATIONS SPECIALIST
Communications specialist Michael Huber manages print and digital communications. He designed new sites for the Institute, its Trolley literary magazine and the Albany Book Festival.
Before joining the Institute in 2017, Mike served as the Albany Times Union’s interactive audience manager, building engagement between the newsroom and its readers. He produced special sections for timesunion.com, managed its email marketing program and an extensive network of staff- and reader-written blogs, and built the newspaper's intranet site. He began working at the Times Union in 1988 and was part of the four-person team that designed and launched the timesunion.com website in 1998.
Since 2008, Mike has been an adjunct professor of journalism at UAlbany. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the State University College at Geneseo and a master’s degree in history from the University at Albany.
SUZANNE LANCE, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR (Retired)
Suzanne Lance served as the Writers Institute associate director from 1989 until 2018.
She is currently working on a project to create a digital archive from the thousands of hours of individual recordings documenting Writers Institute visits from more than 2,000 writers. Her efforts were featured in a Times Union story, Digging deep to digitize: Writers Institute works to make immense archive publicly accessible.
Prior to coming to the Institute, Suzanne was Special Projects Officer for Toni Morrison in her position as Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities at UAlbany. Suzanne was editor of Adirondack Peeks, the biannual magazine of the Adirondack Forty-Sixers, and contributed to Heaven Up-h’isted-ness! The History of the Adirondack Forty-Sixers and the High Peaks of the Adirondacks.
More recently, Suzanne and Paul Grondahl co-edited Bootlegger of the Soul: The Literary Legacy of William Kennedy (2018).
SUZANNE ROBERSON, RESEARCH ASSISTANT AND ARCHIVIST
Since 1986, Suzanne Roberson has provided Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Writers Institute founder William Kennedy with research assistance in the production and archiving of his fiction, film, and nonfiction works. She holds bachelor's and master's degrees from the University at Albany and a master's degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Suzanne serves as a board member of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve and Historic Saranac Lake, and on the advisory council of Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH).
JANET TOPAL, ART DIRECTOR
Art Director Janet Topal has worked for the Writers Institute since 2000. She has a bachelor's degree in fine arts from the University at Albany. She provides creative input and graphic design support for the New York State Writers Institute’s print publications, web-based projects, and special events (Albany Book Festival, Albany Film Festival, Telling the Truth Symposium, etc.).
JOHN WARREN, MEDIA SPECIALIST
John Warren has been with the Writers Institute since 2008, following a career as a journalist and documentary television producer. John founded the online news journal New York Almanack and is a weekly contributor to North Country Public Radio. He earned a master’s degree in public history at the University at Albany, and is the author of two books of regional history.
NYS WRITERS INSTITUTE FELLOWS
Edward Schwarzschild is Professor of English at UAlbany and a Fellow at the NYS Writers Institute. He is the author of In Security. His previous books are Responsible Men and The Family Diamond. His stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in The Guardian, The Believer, The Washington Post, Tin House, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Yale Journal of Criticism, and elsewhere. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford, he’s also been a NYFA Fellow in Fiction, a Fulbright Scholar in Spain, and, most recently, a Fiction Meets Science Writer-in-Residence at the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg in Delmenhorst, Germany. https://www.edwardschwarzschild.com/
Langdon Brown is a Distinguished Fellow Emeritus of the Writers Institute and Associate Professor of English at UAlbany. He serves as director of the Institute’s Authors Theatre program, for which he wrote stage adaptations of Richard Russo’s Mohawk and Russell Banks’ The Moor. Brown is a theatrical director who received his Ph.D. in theatre history and dramatic literature from Cornell University.
DISTINGUISHED FELLOW EMERITI
James Lasdun was born in London and now lives in the U.S. He has published novels, a memoir, collections of poetry and books of short stories, including the selection Besieged, the title story of which was made into a film by Bernardo Bertolucci. His most recent books are Bluestone: New and Selected Poems and Afternoon of a Faun, a novel. With his wife Pia Davis he has written two guide books, Walking and Eating in Tuscany and Umbria, and Walking and Eating in Provence. His essays and reviews have appeared in Harper’s, Granta, The London Review of Books, The New York Times, The Guardian and The New Yorker. His work has been widely translated and won numerous awards, including the inaugural BBC National Short Story Award. He has been a finalist for the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Forward Prize and the LA Times Book Prize. His first novel, The Horned Man, was a New York Times Notable Book, and his second, Seven Lies, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
Lynne Tillman is the author of the novels Haunted Houses, Cast in Doubt, Motion Sickness, and No Lease on Life (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, 1998). Her story collections are The Madame Realism Complex, Absence Makes the Heart, and most recently, This Is Not It. Her nonfiction books are Bookstore: The Life and Times of Jeannette Watson; The Broad Picture, an essay collection, and The Velvet Years: Warhol’s Factory 1965-67, photographs by Stephen Shore. Tillman’s writing has been widely anthologized and has appeared in, among others 110 Stories: New York Writes After 9/11, The Norton Anthology of Postmodern Literature, Tin House, McSweeney’s, The Time Out Book of New York Short Stories, and The New Gothic. She has written for Nest, The New York Times Book Review, Art in America, Artforum, Frieze, Bookform, and is also a contributing editor to Bomb. She is a faculty member at the University at Albany.
Lydia Davis, acclaimed fiction writer, translator and winner of the 2013 Man Booker International Prize. She received one of 25 MacArthur Foundation “Genius” awards in fall 2003. In granting the award the MacArthur Foundation praised Davis’s work for showing “how language itself can entertain, how all that what one word says, and leaves unsaid, can hold a reader’s interest. . . . Davis grants readers a glimpse of life’s previously invisible details, revealing new sources of philosophical insights and beauty.” Davis’s most recent fiction collections are Varieties of Disturbance (2007), and Samuel Johnson is Indignant (2001). The French government named Davis a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters for her fiction and her distinguished translations of works by Maurice Blanchot, Pierre Jean Jouve, Michel Butor, and others, and her widely noted translation of Proust’s Swann’s Way (2003). Davis’s previous works include Almost No Memory (stories, 1997), The End of the Story (novel, 1995), Break It Down (stories, 1986), Story and Other Stories (1983), and The Thirteenth Woman (stories, 1976).