Hosted by the University at Albany, the New York State Writers Institute is the fruition of William Kennedy's vision for a literary crossroads
in Albany. Since its creation in 1983 as a UAlbany-based center and its expansion a year later to a state supported cultural program, the Writers Institute has provided
the broadest possible educational base for readers and students of writing to promote the literary arts. As its program offerings continue to grow, the Institute's central aim is to celebrate
literature, writing, and performance, and to enhance the role of writers as a community within the
larger community. [Complete History Narrative]
THE CENTER FOR THE LITERARY ARTS IN NEW YORK STATE
Prize-winning novelist William Kennedy founded the Writers Institute at
Albany with part of a fellowship awarded him from the John D. and Catherine
T. MacArthur Foundation. As part of that award, fifteen thousand
dollars for five years went to the institution of Kennedy’s choice,
the University at Albany, State University of New York. The University
made a commitment to match those funds in order to establish a visiting writers series.
1984: Governor Mario M. Cuomo signed into law the legislation
creating the New York State Writers Institute, giving it goals and responsibilities
to conduct a broad range of cultural and educational literary activities.
The Writers Institute has a mandate 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." Tom Smith, UAlbany
English Department professor worked with Kennedy in the organization and
development of the Writers Institute and served as the Institute’s
1985: By special legislative mandate, the Institute was given the responsibility
of awarding both the Edith Wharton Citation of Merit for Fiction Writers
(State Author) and the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit for Poets (State
Poet) every two years. The Governor awards each citation upon the recommendation
of two advisory panels of distinguished authors convened under the aegis
of the Institute.
1987: Inception of New York State Summer Writers Institute. The Institute entered into a partnership with Skidmore College
in Saratoga Springs, NY to sponsor the New York State Summer Writers Institute,
a month-long series of creative writing courses in poetry, fiction, nonfiction,
translation, and editing.
1987: World premiere of IRONWEED. The Writers Institute hosted the world premiere of the movie Ironweed at Albany's Palace Theatre on December 12. Based on William Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel—with the screenplay also written by Kennedy—the film was shot in and around Albany. The film was directed by Hector Babenco and starred Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep, who both were nominated for Oscars for their roles.
1988:The Birth of Black Cinema. A three-day symposium
on the distinct burst of African-American image-making from the
1960s to present, featuring filmmakers and critics Toni Cade Bambara,
St. Clair Bourne, Haile Gerima, Spike Lee, James Snead and Hortense
Spillers. Cosponsored with the University at Albany Schweitzer
Chair, Toni Morrison.
1988: Initiation of the Albany Showcase Series featuring readings by Albany area writers. The Institute provided the resources to outfit Page Hall on the UAlbany downtown campus with 35 mm film projection equipment in order to establish a Classic Film Series — weekly Friday night screenings of rare films, contemporary international offerings, classics made in the U.S. and abroad, as well as pre-release screenings from major studios. Film Note Index
1988-1995: The Institute significantly increased its public outreach
by initiating the public radio Book Show. Coproduced by WAMC-FM,
Albany's National Public Radio affiliate, The Book Show was a
weekly half-hour interview program featuring some of the most celebrated
names in literature. Initially hosted by Tom Smith (1984-94), and
then by novelist and short story writer Douglas Glover (1994-95), The
heard on over 26 stations throughout the United States, Australia,
and on the Armed Forces Network.
1989: New York State Author and New York State Poet Awards Ceremony. The Institute named E. L. Doctorow New York State Author and Robert Creely New York State Poet at a special ceremony at the NYS Capitol.
1991: New York State Author and New York State Poet Awards Ceremony. The Institute named Norman Mailer New York State Author and Audre Lorde New York State Poet at a special ceremony at the NYS Capitol.
1993: New York State Author and New York State Poet Awards Ceremony. The Institute named William Gaddis New York State Author and Richard Howard New York State Poet at a special ceremony at the NYS Capitol.
1994:The World, The Word, and The Future. A critical
evaluation of the current status and possible futures of poetry,
fiction, and nonfiction, and the issues facing each art form. Participants
included Hayden Carruth, Maureen Howard, Simon Schama, and Patricia
Williams, among others.
1995: Following the untimely death of the Institute's Associate Director Tom Smith, Donald Faulkner joined the Institute, first as Associate Director, and then as Director.
1995:Women, Multiculturalism, and the Avant Garde.
A weekend symposium featuring panel discussions and readings exploring
the aesthetic of each and what they have to offer each other.
1995: New York State Author and New York State Poet Awards Ceremony. The Institute named Peter Matthiessen New York State Author and Jane Cooper New York State Poet at a special ceremony at the NYS Capitol.
1996:The Business of Writing. A round table discussion
of the business aspects of the publishing industry that focused
on how a manuscript makes its way from the writers' desk to the
bookstores, a process often a mystery to aspiring and published
writers alike. Featuring Dosier Hammond, Marketing Director, W.W.
Norton & Company; Bill Henderson, founder of Pushcart Press;
Barbara Jones, Senior Features Editor, Vogue Magazine;
Sally Anne McCartin, publicist, McCartin Associates; Susan Novotny,
owner/buyer, The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza; Rebecca Saletan,
Vice President and Senior Editor, Simon & Schuster Adult Trade
Division; Chuck Verrill, Literary Agent.
1996: The Institute launches its website with event schedule information and updates, visiting writer profiles, film notes, and an online magazine.
1997: Inaugural Burian Lecture with Marvin A.Carlson, in Co-sponsorship with UAlbany Theatre Department. This yearly event brings leading scholars and practitioners of the art of the theatre to the Albany campus. Funded by Jarka and Grayce Susan Burian, two of the Capital District's leading theatrical educators and artists, the lecture honors Dr. Burian's long and influential service at the University.
1997: In partnership with the Capital Region’s
PBS affiliate WMHT, the Institute expanded The Book Show into
a regular public television program, The Writer. This weekly half-hour
series of video portraits focused on writers who were guests of the Institute.
1998: New York State Author and New York State Poet Awards Ceremony. The Institute named James Salter New York State Author and Sharon Olds New York State Poet at a special ceremony at the NYS Capitol.
1999:Nonfiction: The State of the Art. Four
of America's leading nonfiction writers—Joel Achenbach, Susan
Orlean, Lawrence Weschler, and JoAnn Wypijewski—discussed
feature writing, commercialism, censorship, and editorial standards
in a wide-ranging panel discussion.
1999: Annual Associated Writing Programs Conference in
Albany. As part of the AWP conference events the Institute sponsored a series of programs including
the keynote address by Frank McCourt; readings on Writing and
Healing by Donald Faulkner and Richard Selzer; a panel discussion The
Writer at Film Writer, the Director as Auteur, with Russell
Banks, William Kennedy and Scott Spencer; and a special symposium on the
work of William Kennedy.
2001: New York State Author and New York State Poet Awards Ceremony. The Institute named Kurt Vonnegut New York State Author and John Ashbery New York State Poet at a special ceremony at the NYS Capitol.
2001: Novelist and short story writer Edward Schwarzschild joined the Institute staff with a dual appointment in the University at Albany’s English Department, to assist with program development and to teach a course based on the work of Institute visiting writers each semester.
2004: Celebrating 20 Years of the Writers Institute. UAlbany's College of Arts and Sciences sponsored "The Writing Semester" in honor of the Institute's 20th anniversary.
2004: New York State Author and New York State Poet Awards Ceremony. The Institute named Russell Banks New York State Author and Billy Collins New York State Poet at a special ceremony at the NYS Capitol.
2005:W. Langdon Brown, who had served as Chair of the UAlbany Theatre Department for many years, joined the Institute to direct the Authors Theatre program.
2006:Women’s Voices Illuminating Cultures in
and women’s rights activist Ann Jones, Iranian-American author
Nahid Rachlin, and South African-born novelist and poet Yvette
Christianse presented seminars and readings on their work which
explores cultures in conflict.
2007: Celebration of Chinese Culture. In conjunction with UAlbany's "China Semester," the Institute hosted appearances by China scholar and author Jonathan Spence, poet and memorist Kang Zhengguo, playwright Elizabeth Wong, and memorist Da Chen.
2007: The New York State Writers Institute along with UAlbany proudly announced a new partnership with Fence, a biannual journal of poetry, fiction, criticism, and art, and Fence Books, a literary press publishing fiction, poetry, and critical texts.
2008:Associated Writing Programs Conference (AWP) — The Writers Institute participated in the annual AWP Conference, which was held in New York City on January 30 - February 2, by sponsoring three readings/panel discussions and hosting a reception.
2008:PEN World Voices: Festival of International Literature. For the first time ever PEN World Voices and the Writers Institute joined together to present an exciting line up of writers from around the globe. The Institute hosted readings by Nuruddin Farah of Somalia, Horacio Castellanos Moya of El Salvador, and Chenjerai Hove of Zimbabwe.