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New York State Writers Institute Reflects Cuomo's Lasting Impact on UAlbany

ALBANY, N.Y. (January 7, 2015) -- Mario Cuomo was only two weeks in office when University at Albany English Professor William Kennedy received a handwritten letter from the 52nd Governor of New York. In the note, Cuomo described his inability to sleep while reading Kennedy's Ironweed.

"What I lost in rest for the body I gained in exhilaration,” said Cuomo in the letter, praising the book that would go on to receive the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The note kicked off a lifelong friendship between Kennedy and Cuomo. The Governor was therefore "1,000 percent" behind a unique endeavor of Kennedy's the following year when he signed the legislation inaugurating the New York State Writers Institute (NYSWI) at the University at Albany. The bill mandated the Institute 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."

Thirty years later, Cuomo's legacy lives on. "Young writers, old established writers, Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners… Creation of the Writers Institute was just one small example of his idea of how to create community, how to better the social environment, how to enhance the arts,” said Donald Faulkner, director of NYSWI.

Gov. Mario Cuomo signs the Writers Institute Into Existence
Governor Mario Cuomo signs into law the New York State Writers Institute on August 6, 1984, with State Senator Tarky Lombardi, NYSWI Executive Director William Kennedy and Assemblyman William Passannante.

An author of several highly praised books, Cuomo returned to UAlbany in 2009 to help the Institute celebrate its 25th Anniversary. It was his first trip back to campus since his days as governor, when he delivered the 1986 Commencement address while his daughter Madeline sat among the new graduates, or when he helped launch the University's Center for Technology in Government (CTG) in 1993.

"Governor Mario Cuomo left his enduring imprint on the University at Albany and its faculty, administration, and students when he established the esteemed New York State Writers Institute, recognized the need to pursue and apply technology for management and service delivery in the public sector through CTG, and celebrated our students’ success at commencement ceremonies," said UAlbany President Robert J. Jones. "Many on our downtown campus fondly recall the Governor’s competitive spirit in the renowned basketball games on the court in Page Hall. Our University community sends its deepest sympathy to his family during this very difficult time."

Cuomo remained one of the University's most enthusiastic supporters until the end, recently agreeing to serve on the board of directors for a future initiative at the Writers Institute.

Commenting on the passing of the Governor – and his friend -- Kennedy said what he leaves us is more enduring than any one thing. "The legacy is more abstract with what Mario has left us and I think it's a wonderful legacy. I think he changed our thinking."

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