Acclaimed Alumni Help Secure NYSWI’s Future

By Greta J. Petry, M.A.’01
Gregory Maguire takes a picture with President Rodriguez and his wife Rosy
Author Gregory Maguire poses with UAlbany President Havidán Rodríguez and the president’s wife, Rosy Lopez, at NYSWI’s inaugural Albany Book Festival last fall.
Marc Guggenheim takes a photo with two UAlbany students after an event
Marc Guggenheim chats with Purple and Gold students during a taping of the interview show “Person Place Thing” with fellow alum Randy Cohen, B.A.’71, last November in New York City.

Two renowned UAlbany alumni – one a novelist, the other a screenwriter and producer – will ensure that audiences continue to enjoy New York State Writers Institute programs that bring celebrated writers and films to the Capital Region.

Gregory Maguire, B.A.’76, author of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, and Marc Guggenheim, B.A.’92, co-creator of the TV series “Arrow” and screenwriter for the movie “Green Lantern,” have made six-figure pledges to the New York State Writers Institute (NYSWI), which is based at UAlbany.

“The Writers Institute provides a sort of agora, or ancient Greek market square, for the sharing of ideas and ideals,” observed Maguire, whose novel inspired Wicked, the sixth-longest-running Broadway show in history. Through The Maguire Family Endowment at NYSWI, the Albany native is providing financial support for the institute to host authors throughout the year. The $500,000 endowment honors his family, and in particular his parents, John Maguire, Helen Gregory Maguire, and Marie McAuliff Maguire.

Maguire, whose mother Helen passed away when he was born, learned about her from “my father and my second mother [Marie],” Helen’s best friend from childhood. “I know that her interest in literature was as rich as theirs.” 

There is great value in the power of public higher education, as well as in making that education accessible to a part of the population previously unable to access it, noted Maguire. As an English and studio-art double major at UAlbany, he was influenced by Professor Lillian Orsini, a librarian who taught a graduate-level class on children’s literature – the only one offered at the time. “She let me take the course as a sophomore. I already possessed a belief in the value of good literature for children. Her generosity of spirit in letting me in was nonpareil in my experience,” recalled Maguire, who penned his first novel senior year as an independent-study project. The Lightning Time was published two years later.

Guggenheim made his $100,000 pledge to sustain NYSWI’s Classic Film Series because cinematic history is important to him. Although he didn’t attend film school, “I’m a big believer that classic films are the best teacher for people interested in becoming filmmakers. It’s important that these works not fade into obscurity and that people continue to have easy – which often means ‘free’ – access to them.”

At UAlbany, Guggenheim studied in the English Honors Program. He credited Rosemary Hennessy, his thesis adviser, with inspiring his love of writing.

New York State Writers Institute Director Paul Grondahl, M.A.’84, thanked Maguire and Guggenheim for their “transformative gifts.” The “two brilliant writers and deeply committed University at Albany alumni,” Grondahl added, “have been past guests of the Writers Institute, and they shared insights into their creative imaginations with our students, faculty, alumni, and community members. 

logo for the New York State Writers Institute

“Now, with these major gifts, they are helping to ensure that those meaningful conversations with writers and filmmakers from around the world will continue for many years to come. Their generosity will allow us to offer the very best literary and classic film programming to be found anywhere, free and open to the public. Thank you, Gregory and Marc. You’re part of the Writers Institute family now.”

Last October, Maguire signed books at NYSWI’s inaugural Albany Book Festival, an event that drew 5,000 participants. In an April 2018 appearance co-sponsored by the Writers Institute and the UAlbany Speaker Series, Guggenheim screened clips of his film and television work, offered commentary, and participated in a question-and-answer session.    

Guggenheim enjoys talking to students when he returns to campus. “I love their curiosity and passion. They’re growing up at such an interesting time, particularly in terms of politics and popular culture. It’s inspiring to see how many of them want to become writers,” he said.  

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