The citations, established in 1985 by the governor and state legislature to promote fiction and poetry within the state, are awarded biennially under the aegis of the New York State Writers Institute. Awardees serve two years in their honorary positions and each receive a $10,000 honorarium.
Salter, born in New Jersey in 1925 and raised in New York City, is the author of five novels, a short story collection and a memoir. Salter is a unique figure on the literary landscape, one of his generation's most admired stylists (a "writers writer"), but not well known by a majority of the reading public. James Wolcott in "Vanity Fair" called him "the most underrated underrated writer," and the "Dictionary of Literary Biography" asserts that "His admirers, devout in their loyalty, pass his name along to the uninitiated with the trust of a personal secret." Novelist Robert Stone, a member of the advisory panel that selected Salter described Salter's spare and stoical prose as "the idiom of insight. In its essential eloquence and concision it conveys the courage, thoughtfulness, and wisdom for which Salter's readers turn, again and again, to him. He is an artist of rare and singular accomplishment; literally a resource of his state in terms of pride and encouragement."
Salter's novels include "The Hunter" (1957) and "The Arm of Flesh" (1961), both of which draw on his experience as an Air Force fighter pilot; "A Sport and a Pastime" (1967) about the affair of an American drifter and a young Frenchwoman, judged "as nearly perfect as any American fiction I know," by Reynolds Price in the "New York Times Book Review;" "Light Years" (1975), which chronicles the dissolution of a twenty-year marriage; and "Solo Faces" (1979), the story of a man's passion for mountain climbing. His short story collection, “Dusk and Other Stories" (1988) won the PEN/Faulkner Award. His most recent book, "Burning the Days" (1997), a memoir, provides insights into his remarkable life, including his long career as a fighter pilot (flying over 100 combat missions in Korea), his work as a filmmaker and screenwriter, and his passionate interests in outdoor sports and all things European. In addition to expressing his pleasure and surprise upon notification of the award Salter remarked: "Well, as someone, said, 'To write! What a marvelous thing!' I didn't say that, but I believe it. And now this!"
The advisory panel that recommended Salter as state author included the present laureate, novelist and nonfiction writer Peter Matthiessen, novelist Robert Stone and E. Annie Proulx, and William Kennedy, novelist and director of the New York State Writers Institute. Olds, who resides in New York City, is the author of five major volumes of poetry. She uses an intense, personal voice to convey truths about family relationships, domestic and political violence, and sexuality. A reviewer for the "New York Times" hailed Olds's poetry for its vision: "Like Whitman, Ms. Olds sings the body in celebration of a power stronger than political oppressions."
In describing Olds's poetry, outgoing New York State poet Jane Cooper said: "In the quick fall and rise of Sharon Olds's images, everything seems to be happening now, in the present, and happening to ourselves. The thrust of these poems is always to find out the hidden life, the pulsing moment of coming-into-being. Olds is a bold writer, risky, powerful, profoundly humane, who through five collections has extended our awareness of what can be written."
Olds's poetry volumes include "Satan Says" (1980), which received the inaugural San Francisco Poetry Center Award; "The Dead and the Living" (1984), which was the Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets, and the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award; "The Gold Cell" (1987); "The Father" (1992); and her most recent collection "The Wellspring" (1996).
Olds is a founding chair of the Writing Program at Goldwater Hospital for the severely physically disabled. She is currently chair of New York University's Graduate Creative Writing Program. Upon the announcement of the Whitman Citation, Olds said: "The invitation to join Stanley Kunitz, Robert Creeley, Audre Lorde, Richard Howard, and Jane Cooper, in serving and celebrating poetry in the Bluebird Rose Sugar-Maple State, is such an honor and encouragement. The first thing I plan to do is to go to the nearest grammar school and offer an hour a week to help someone learn to read. The school is Manhattan P.S. 75; the name over its door is Emily Dickinson." The advisory panel that recommended Olds as state poet included Jane Cooper, the present state poet; Robert Pinsky, current Poet Laureate of the United States; poet, editor, and prose stylist Donald Hall; and Donald Faulkner, poet and Associate Director of the New York State Writers Institute. Previous state authors have been Grace Paley, E. L. Doctorow, Norman Mailer, William Gaddis, and Peter Matthiessen. Previous state poets have been Stanley Kunitz, Robert Creeley, Audrey Lorde, Richard Howard, and Jane Cooper.
The New York State Writers Institute of the State University of New York was mandated as a permanent state-sponsored organization through legislation that was sponsored by former Assemblyman William Passannante of Manhattan, and former Senator Tarky J. Lombardi, Jr. of Syracuse, and signed into public law by former Governor Mario M. Cuomo on September 12, 1984. Associated with the State University of New York system and located at the University at Albany, the Institute draws upon and complements existing programs in imaginative writing and the sister arts throughout New York State. It 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.
For additional information contact the Writers Institute at (518)442-5620 or visit the Institute's Web pages at www.albany.edu/writers-inst/