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90 and 35: Literary Years to Celebrate for UAlbany

William Kennedy: a budding journalist (and sportswriter) for the Glens Falls Post Star circa 1950, and today at home in his library. 

ALBANY, N.Y. (January 23, 2018) — Milestones. The New York State Writers Institute has two of its most important ones ever in 2018. The year marks the 35th anniversary since Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist William Kennedy created what has become one of the nation’s pre-eminent literary organizations. And January 16, 2018, marked 90 years since the world was graced with William J. Kennedy.

The Institute’s lineup for the spring semester includes winners of two Pulitzers Prizes, three Tonys, five Emmys, a Peabody, a Booker Prize and a Grammy, plus a National Book Award finalist and a four-time National Poetry Slam winner . . . and, oh yes, a Nobelist.

“It’s an extremely ambitious and diverse series that raises the bar and our profile across the Capital Region and beyond,” said Director Paul Grondahl. “We wanted to make this watershed year something special that creates a lot of buzz.”

Kennedy, still the Institute’s executive director, began the first chapter of the Institute’s story in 1983, when he earmarked a portion of his MacArthur “genius grant” for seed money. UAlbany President Vincent O’Leary matched Kennedy’s contribution. Nobel Prize-winner Saul Bellow, a mentor of Kennedy, became the first visiting writer to come to campus. The Institute was elevated to official state designation in 1984, via legislation signed into law by Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Kennedy, who taught his first journalistic writing course at the University in 1974, has been on hand to welcome nearly all of the roughly 2,000 visiting writers who followed Bellow. In the years since 1983, a strong national reputation has grown, along with extensive community engagement and collaboration with other University departments. The Institute has truly become a valuable ambassador for UAlbany throughout the literary world.

It has also soundly rejected complacency. Kennedy praised the latest innovative programming of assistant director Mark Koplik, along with Grondahl’s energetic new leadership. “I like how we’ve become sassy and unpredictable,” he said.

He also expressed appreciation for the commitment of Associate Director Suzanne Lance, who retired in January after 39 years of service at UAlbany. “Suzanne has been the heart and soul of the Writers Institute and we’re happy she’s not actually ‘retiring,’” Kennedy said, noting that Lance continues to work two days a week on a digital archiving project that was featured in a recent Sunday Times Union article.

The spring series pays tribute to the career of its founder, who put Albany on the literary map and transformed the city’s history through his Albany Cycle of novels. On Jan. 31, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan hosts a 90th birthday celebration in the City Hall Rotunda, featuring a performance by Albany Pro Musica and excerpts of Kennedy’s writing read by members of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild. The spring series concludes with “This Is Your Life, William Kennedy,” a tribute to the author

Other highlights this spring feature notable UAlbany alumni Randy Cohen (Feb. 21) and Marc Guggenheim (April 20), as well as former UAlbany faculty member Joachim Frank (March 6), a 2017 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry who will discuss his fiction writing. The first Albany appearance of world-renowned author Salman Rushdie occurs on April 19 and a April 24 panel discussion on “Women and Power in America” (April 24) features NPR broadcaster Cokie Roberts and Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein.

In addition, the Creative Life Series, a joint initiative of the Institute, the Performing Arts Center and the University Art Museum, hosts photographer Frédéric Brenner (March 7), choreographer Garth Fagan (March 28) and Broadway legend Patti LuPone (April 26).

For a complete spring series schedule, go to nyswritersinstitute.org.

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