NYS Writers Institute Kicks Off Fall 2023 Season of Events

Collage featuring the NYS Writers Institute logo, graphics for the Albany Book Festival, NYS Author and Poet, and book jackets of authors coming to visit UAlbany this fall.

By Bethany Bump

ALBANY, N.Y. (Aug. 29, 2023) — The NYS Writers Institute has announced a full slate of events this fall season that will bring writers, journalists, poets, musicians and other creatives to the University at Albany to discuss some of the most pressing issues of our time, including free speech, artificial intelligence, censorship and more.

The season comes as the Institute continues to celebrate its 40th anniversary, and will include the 6th annual Albany Book Festival, an all-day event taking place Saturday, Sept. 23, in the Campus Center.

“We always look to be relevant and timely and even ahead of the curve on a lot of issues,” said Writers Institute Opalka Endowed Director Paul Grondahl. “So we really tried to create a full palette of offerings, genres and authors this year. Both emerging authors and a diversity of voices are important to us, as are defending things that the Writers Institute and this University stand for, such as free expression, free speech and anti-censorship.”

The season kicks off tonight with a visit by major American novelist Richard Russo, whose most recent novel, Somebody’s Fool (2023), and previous work explores blue-collar life in Upstate New York. He will deliver a reading and conversation at 7 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center, followed by a book signing and reception in the Futterer Lounge. Alt-folk band Doctor Baker, which features UAlbany English Professor Ed Schwarzschild on vocals and Art Professor Danny Goodwin on drums, will perform after the event outside the PAC.

State Author & State Poet

The Institute’s premiere event, the Albany Book Festival, will officially kick off Friday, Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m. with a ceremony to recognize the new State Author and State Poet —  Jacqueline Woodson and Patricia Spears Jones, respectively, who will serve in those roles from 2023-2025.

A seated woman with short black hair wears a black turtleneck and stares into the camera, her hands crossed beneath her chin.
Jacqueline Woodson

Woodson, a beloved children’s author whose memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, won the 2014 National Book Award, has written more than 40 books for young people and adults, including Another Brooklyn, Each Kindness, If You Come Softly, Locomotion, and I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This.

Jones, an award-winning poet, has authored six poetry collections, including The Beloved Community and A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems. Her work has also been anthologized in African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song, and Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry. She is co-editor of the groundbreaking 1978 anthology, Ordinary Women: An Anthology of New York City Women Poets.

The awards, established in 1985 by Gov. Mario M. Cuomo and the State Legislature to promote fiction and poetry in New York, are given every two years and come with a $10,000 honorarium. Awardees are selected by a panel of jurors convened by the Writers Institute that includes  former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, former State Poet Mary Gordon, current State Poet Willie Perdomo, Roxane Gay, NYS Writers Institute founder William Kennedy, along with UAlbany faculty and students.

A woman with short red hair, black glasses and red lipstick wears a colorful orange blouse with an intricate threaded design and smiles for a portrait
Patricia Spears Jones

At the Book Festival itself, which takes place from 10:30 a.m. through 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23, Woodson and Jones will appear for an informal conversation at 10:30 a.m. and take questions from the audience in the Campus Center West Auditorium.

Other featured authors at the festival will include Annie Proulx, Angie Cruz, Kate Fagan, Jeff Shaara, Jai Chakrabarti, Ava Chin, Kate Cohen, Andre Dubus III, Susan Faludi, Howard Fishman, Sidik Fofana, Kellye Garrett, Karen Baum Gordon, Mary Gordon, Jennifer Haigh, Daniel Halpern, Jimin Han, Nell Irvin Painter, Elizabeth Passarella, Serhii Plokhy, Annie Proulx, Greg Steinmetz, Kim van Alkemade, Amy Wallen, Gary Weiss, Valerie Wilson Wesley and Carmen Rita Wong.

Other special events

This season’s lineup includes several film screenings and conversations with writers including novelist Jonathan Lethem (Motherless Brooklyn) on Thursday, Oct. 12; novelist Vauhini Vara (The Immortal King Rao) on Tuesday, Oct. 17; Melissa DeRosa, communications director for former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, discussing her memoir What’s Left Unsaid, on Wednesday, Oct. 25; fantasy author Christopher Paolini (Eragon) on Wednesday, Nov. 8; rock star (The Bangles) turned novelist Susanna Hoffs (This Bird Has Flown) on Thursday, Nov. 9; and the season-ending event, a conversation with journalist Mark Chiusano on his upcoming book The Fabulist, an expose on Republican Congressman George Santos.

The Writers Institute will also host the fifth edition of its “Telling the Truth” symposium on Nov. 17 at 5:30 p.m. at Page Hall, featuring two panel discussions with major thinkers and journalists representing a variety of viewpoints who will discuss the present and future of our nation.

The first panel, “The American Presidency,” will feature a conversation with author Franklin Foer and security expert Miles Taylor about the Biden administration and the prospect of a second Trump term. The second panel, “The American Backlash,” will feature a conversation with political scientist Juliet Hooker and author Jeff Sharlet about the politics of revenge and the impulse to punish racial, sexual and cultural minorities and other “out groups” who have made political gains.

View the full schedule of fall 2023 events and sign up for the email list at the NYS Writers Institute site.