nys writers logo


2015: The New York State Writers Institute Year in Review

2015 was quite a busy year for us here at the New York State Writers Institute! A late January visit from feminist essayist and critic Katha Pollit, who read from her new book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, began our spring programming on an inspiring note and set a thought-provoking tone for the entire season. Over the next few months, we celebrated the pioneering activist and organizer Barbara Smith with a discussion of Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith, edited by Alethia Jones and Virginia Eubanks, laughed along with Mary Norris’s hilarious meditations on life and grammar at The New Yorker, and marveled at the performance of acclaimed director/actor Tina Packer, author of Women of Will: Following the Feminine in Shakespeare’s Plays, as she delivered our 19th annual Burian Lecture.

Spring 2015 was a season of award-winning novelists as well. The February cold couldn’t keep two-time Booker Prize recipient Peter Carey from his 3rd visit to the Writers Institute, while March brought two-time Commonwealth Writers’ Prize winner Caryl Phillips back to the Albany campus for the first time in ten years to read from his new novel, The Lost Child. It was also an opportunity for us to welcome some exciting new voices, including debut novelist Yelena Akhtiorskaya, author of Panic in a Suitcase and one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” in 2014, and Albany’s own Elisa Albert, whose highly-acclaimed second novel, After Birth, was recently named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2015.

And last – but certainly not least! – it was also a unique season for our film series, as we hosted the William A. Wellman Film Festival, a screening of five classic films, including Wings, the first Oscar-winner for Best Picture, and the Oscar-nominated The Public Enemy, a classic portrayal of Prohibition Era Chicago. The festival – and the Spring season – culminated with a visit by William A. Wellman, Jr., whose biography of his father, Wild Bill Wellman: Hollywood Rebel, draws from unpublished diaries, letters, and notes, to present a compelling portrait of both a film legend and the magic of Old Hollywood.

After an all-too-short summer, fall 2015 brought another wave of exemplary fiction writers through our Institute doors. Ann Beattie, one of America’s most celebrated short story writers, read from her most recent collection, The State We’re In: Maine Stories, and novelist Mary Gaitskill offered a selection from her exciting new novel, The Mare, while young adult novelist Jason Reynolds captivated audiences at both Albany High School and the New York State Museum. In mid-October, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Adam Johnson returned to UAlbany in a collaboration between the Writers Institute and the English Department’s new “Department Read” project – and no one who heard him read from Fortune Smiles that evening was at all surprised when, a month later, it won the 2015 National Book Award for Fiction.

Not to be outdone, however, our lineup of nonfiction writers was equally as impressive. From the science writing of Casey Schwartz, who read from her new book In the Mind Fields: Exploring the New Science of Neuropsychoanalysis, and a visit in October from acclaimed food writer and former New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, to a seminar with Ginger Strand, author of The Brothers Vonnegut, and a screening of the documentary film Detropia with director Rachel Grady, Fall 2015 was one of our most eclectic and well-rounded seasons to date. And, in a particularly memorable event, we had the pleasure of welcoming the award-winning actor and director (and former UAlbany student!) Ed Burns to the Writers Institute for a reading from his new memoir, Independent Ed, and a screening of two episodes of his new TNT police drama, Public Morals.

We already have some great things in store for the spring 2016 season, including visits from five (!) Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, a collaboration with the Performing Arts Center and the Albany Public Library entitled “Eyes on Zora: The Life and Legacy of Zora Neale Hurston,” and the 20th anniversary of the Burian Lecture Series. Our full schedule will be released soon, so be sure to have your calendars ready! In the meantime, the Writers Institute wishes you and yours a happy and healthy holiday season filled with good cheer and great books – and, as always, we thank you for your continued attendance and support!