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New York State Writers Institute Names State Author and State Poet

Contact(s):  Catherine Herman (518) 956-8150

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 3, 2008) -- Governor Eliot Spitzer and First Lady Silda Wall Spitzer today presented fiction writer Mary Gordon with the Edith Wharton Citation of Merit as State Author and poet Jean Valentine with the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit as State Poet for 2008-2010.

Gordon, a novelist, short story writer, and memoirist will receive the New York State Edith Wharton Citation of Merit for fiction writers; and poet Jean Valentine will receive the New York State Walt Whitman Citation of Merit for poets. The awards will be presented by Governor Eliot Spitzer and First Lady Silda Wall Spitzer at a special ceremony on Monday, March 3, 2008 at 3:30 p.m. at the New York State Capitol. Following the ceremony the two laureates will read from their work at 8 p.m. at Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, on the University at Albany’s downtown campus. The reading is free and open to the public.

The citations were established in 1985 by the governor and state legislature to promote fiction and poetry within the state. Upon the recommendation of two advisory panels of distinguished writers convened under the aegis of the New York State Writers Institute, the governor awards the citations every two years.

“For centuries New York State has produced some of the most influential writers in American history,” said Spitzer. “Their stories give us a window into the struggles of our ancestors, the stories of our neighbors and the human conditions that bind us all. The writers honored today represent the best of New York’s literary achievements.”
 
"The University at Albany and New York State Writer's Institute are proud to honor the achievements of Mary Gordon and Jean Valentine today and to celebrate the vitality of the literary arts in New York," said George M. Philip, interim president of the University at Albany.

Gordon is the author of several bestselling novels, as well as short stories, memoirs, essays, and criticism. Gordon is known for work that explores Irish-American family life, single motherhood, Catholic spirituality, thwarted love, moral struggle, personal sacrifice, and female identity. She is often praised for her deep insights, lyrical writing, and what L.A. Times critic Ellen Akins called, “her delicate rendering of the drama of consciousness.”

Gordon’s latest work includes the memoir Circling My Mother (2007); the collection The Stories of Mary Gordon (2006); and the novel Pearl (2005), the story of a single mother who sets out to prevent her only daughter, Pearl, from killing herself in a self-imposed hunger strike.

The advisory panel that recommended Gordon as state author included the present laureate, Russell Banks, novelists Sue Miller and Alice McDermott, and novelist and executive director of the New York State Writers Institute, William Kennedy.

“Mary Gordon’s fiction is a fusion of emotional power and literary elegance," said Kennedy. "She writes of family, and of issues central to women’s lives, and her work is sometimes seen as autobiographical.  But it transcends the personal.  Her heroines do battle with forces threatening their lives – religion, sexual love, politics, male power; also with their own compulsions to yield to such forces.  She has engaged major ideas and conflicts of our era, always at a very human level.”

Previous state authors have been Grace Paley, E. L. Doctorow, Norman Mailer, William Gaddis, Peter Matthiessen, Kurt Vonnegut, and Russell Banks.

Valentine is the author of eleven books of poetry including Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems (Wesleyan), which won the 2004 National Book Award for poetry, and her most recent book, Little Boat (Wesleyan) which was published in 2007. She has also edited a collection of essays on poet Eleanor Ross Taylor.

Valentine is known for poems of striking intensity that derive much of their structure and imagery from dreams. She has long enjoyed a small but passionate following of readers and fellow poets. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, David Kalstone said, “Miss Valentine has a gift for tough strangeness, but also a dreamlike syntax and manner of arranging the lines of . . . short poems so as to draw us into the doubleness and fluency of feelings.”

The advisory panel that recommended Valentine as state poet included Maxine Kumin and Franz Wright, former state poets Billy Collins and John Ashbery, and poet and Institute Director, Donald Faulkner.

“Jean Valentine is one of our most valiant poets," said Faulkner. "She is an intrepid explorer of the ‘thin places,’ the spaces where dream and waking, life and beyond-life, all overlap, blend, and sometimes merge. Her ability to give voice to this richness, combined with her insight and cunning craft, produces a poetry we need.”

Previous state poets have been Stanley Kunitz, Robert Creeley, Audrey Lorde, Richard Howard, Jane Cooper, John Ashbery, and Billy Collins.

The New York State Writers Institute of the State University of New York, located at the University at Albany, was mandated as a permanent state-sponsored organization through legislation signed into law in 1984.  The Writers Institute provides a milieu for renowned and experienced writers from all over the world to come together with new and aspiring writers for the purpose of instruction and creative exchange.

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