gazettelogo.gif - 2815 BytesThe Daily Gazette
09/26/06

By JACK RIGHTMYER, Staff Writer
Kennedy and McEneny to spotlight ‘old Albany’
Author, legislator to present guide to walking tour in city’s South End

Pulitzer Prize winning novelist William Kennedy has always imagined the city of Albany like it was an archealogical dig.

"The historical aspect of Albany has always fascinated me," said Kennedy in a recent phone interview. "The idea that I could stand on a street corner in Albany and think back to all the events that happened there, all the people that walked there, has always made me value the ground I walk on."

Kennedy has spent his literary career writing eight novels about Albany and on Sunday, October 1st, he will join Assemblyman John McEneny in a discussion of 'William Kennedy's Albany: A South End Walking Tour.' The talk will take place at 1 pm at the Albany Institute of History and Art, located at 125 Washington Avenue.

"This came about when someone asked me to do a talk about Albany's architecture," said Kennedy. "I thought I'd do a reading from my book 'O Albany!'.

The acclaimed nonfiction book 'O Albany!' (1983) was based in part on a series of Pulitzer Prize nominated articles about the city that Kennedy wrote for the Times Union. The text of the walking tour guide is partially excerpted from the text of 'O Albany!'

A walking tour guide of Albany's South End will be available to participants to follow immediately after the discussion. The free 16-page guide is divided into three sections: the South End/Groesbeckville Historic District, the Pastures Preservation Historic District, and the Mansion Historic District. The self guided tour is about three-quarters of a mile in length and should take about an hour and fifteen minutes to complete.

"I'd like to talk about old Albany," said Kennedy, "the Albany I grew up with, what the city used to be before the mall was built. That's a forgotten element, those neighborhoods that are no longer there. Jack McEneny also knows a lot about that area."

Although Kennedy misses some of the old Albany, he's pleased that the Capitol Hill area of Dove and State Street has remained unchanged. "I'm also very encouraged about the direction of where Albany is going," he said. "Mayor Tom Whelan told me he hoped to make Albany a twenty-four hour city, and that's beginning to happen now."

He's also very impressed with the revitalization of Pearl Street. "It's a place with new clubs and good restaurants," said Kennedy. "I remember back around 1963 how dismal it was with everyone moving to the suburbs. The place was falling apart."

Assemblyman Jack McEneny feels a lot of that revitalization has to do with people like William Kennedy. "He'd resent the designation," said McEneny, "but he's an Albany treasure. He's put Albany on the literary map. He's an international figure who's known in such diverse places as Paris and Hollywood. He's interviewed people like Fidel Castro, but he still has the same friends he had from childhood. He's only picked up more friends through the years."

McEneny feels it's Kennedy's empathy for people, especially working class people, that keeps him grounded. "That's why he writes about Albany all the time," he said. "It's filled with the characters who fascinate him."

McEneny has represented New York's 104th Assembly District, which includes the city of Albany, for the past thirteen years. He is a former Albany County Historian, a former chair of the Albany Historical Sites Commission, and became the first full-time director of the Urban Cultural Parks Program under then-governor Mario Cuomo. He also co-authored "Albany, Capital City on the Hudson" (1998), the definitive text on the city's four centuries of history.

"The city of Albany is a regional center of antiquity," said McEneny. 'We have a wonderful mix of individuals in the city from politicians, to authors to academics. We have the state Capitol, one of the four largest university centers in the state with international students, a hospital that performs open heart surgery and for most of us just nice neighborhoods to raise a family."

LEVEL OF SOPHISTICATION

According to McEneny, Albany residents are used to seeing people from all walks of life. "There's a high level of sophistication here," he said. "If the bishop visits Oneonta it's covered in the newspaper, but in Albany we see the bishop in the grocery store."

He's looking forward to speaking about some of his favorite areas of Albany. "Bill Kennedy and I don't want to do a long lecture," he said, "and we hope to have a question and answer session from the audience. After our talk we'll encourage people to get out, walk around and see this magnificent city and they'll have a brochure which can guide them to some of the areas we've talked about. It should be fun."

William Kennedy is also looking forward to having a conversation with the audience about the city he has written so lovingly about. "I might do some reading from some of my books," he said, "but I hope the audience will get involved."

He has been steadily working on another novel set in Albany in 1968 and in Cuba in 1957. "I expect to deliver it to my publisher next year," said Kennedy.

Copies of the walking guide can be downloaded at: Walking Guide Booklet.

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