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Fall 2012 at the New York State Writers Institute: A Retrospective.

Alison LurieIn hindsight, it was only fitting that Fall 2012 at the New York State Writers Institute opened with the 2012-2014 New York State Author and Poet Awards, honoring novelist Alison Lurie and poet Marie Howe. The September 20 ceremony celebrated the work of two of New York State’s most accomplished writers and set the stage for an exciting and unique season. Beginning in early October, the Writers Institute welcomed a string of highly-decorated authors to the UAlbany campus. Marie HoweOn October 4, less than 72 hours after being awarded the prestigious MacArthurFellowship, 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz enthralled nearly 500 audience members at a standing-room-only afternoon seminar and an evening reading that filled the Campus Center Ballroom. One week later, in collaboration with a number of academic departments and campus organizations, the Writers Institute hosted two conversations between novelist Paul Auster and the recipient of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature, J.M. Coetzee, one of only three U.S. appearances that Coetzee made in 2012. Audiences gathered in the Recital Hall for a discussion of Herman Melville’s novella “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” between Auster, Coetzee, and several UAlbany students, followed by an evening reading by Coetzee and Auster from their collection of exchanged letters, Here and Now: Letters 2008-2011, to be published in March 2013. This parade of acclaimed authors continued over the following weeks, as the Writers Institute presented nature writer David Quammen, whose Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic was recently named one of the New York Times’ “100 Notable Books of 2012” (along with Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her), and a staged reading of Des Moines, a play by 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist Denis Johnson.

David BlightNot to be overlooked amid these high-profile events, however, were this season’s diverse offerings in both poetry and nonfiction. Following in the footsteps of Marie Howe’s inaugural reading as the newest New York State Poet, the Visiting Writers Series showcased a variety of inspiring lyric voices, from Brazilian poet Salgado Maranhao to Palestinian writer and public intellectual Ghassan Zaqtan to Native American poet and musician Joy Harjo. Leading figures in a number of disciplines, such as African literature (Dorothy Driver), Civil War history (David Blight), technology (Steven Levy), and film (J. Hoberman), each drew large audiences as well.

KinyarwandaAdditionally, the Classic Film Series, with screenings offered at Page Hall on Friday evenings, attracted enthusiastic audiences. The fall series was really two mini-series—the Future of Film, curated by film critic J. Hoberman, and based on his selections of global cinema’s quintessential 21st century motion pictures, and Justice & Multiculturalism in the 21st Century, cosponsored by UAlbany’s School of Criminal Justice, to engage in conversation about the intersection of social justice and criminal justice in an increasingly diverse society. One of the highlights of the fall series was the screening of the film Kinyarwanda and a subsequent question-and-answer session with leading Rwandan actress Hadidja Zaninka. This was Zaninka’s first visit to the United States and the first time she had discussed her craft with an audience.

And so, as the fall season comes to an end, the Writers Institute would like to thank all of our visiting writers, as well as the students, alumni, faculty, staff, and members of the Albany community who contributed to the success of our events. Stay tuned for our Spring 2013 schedule, and we hope to see some familiar faces (as well as many new ones!) next season.