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]

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Program Highlights:

  • 1983: Pulitzer 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: Inaugural Visiting Writer Event with Nobel Prize-winning novelist Saul Bellow. Visiting Writers Series and Visiting Writers and Event Index.

    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.

  • 1986: The first New York State Author and New York State Poet citations were awarded to Grace Paley and Stanley Kunitz..

    1986: THE COTTON CLUB co-scripted by William Kennedy with Francis Ford Coppola.

  • 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 Book Show was 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:  Telling the Truth: A Symposium on the Craft of Nonfiction. This symposium, termed a once-in-a-lifetime event by panelists and attendees alike, assembled 37 of the country's most noted nonfiction writers for a three-day series of presentations and panel discussions. Among the speakers were Maureen Dowd, James Fallows, Timothy Ferris, Frances FitzGerald, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Mary Gordon, Stephen Jay Gould, Patricia Limerick, J. Anthony Lukas, Norman Mailer, David McCullough, Richard Rhodes, Gay Talese, Calvin Trillin, Juan Williams and Garry Wills.

    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.

      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:  African-American Autobiography.  Readings and discussions by Veronica Chambers, Clifton Taulbert, Shirlee Taylor Haizlip, Bell Hooks, and Arnold Rampersad on such topics as the vitures and values of autobiography, the historical importance of African-American autobiography, biography verses autobiography, and African-American autobiography as an art form.

    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.

    1999: Inaugural New York State Summer Young Writers Institute, a week-long writing workshop for New York State high school students.

  • 2000:  A New York State of Mind. Four award-winning writers—Russell Banks, Mary Gordon, William Kennedy, and Meg Wolitzer—discuss how they have used the history, landscape, and popular culture of New York as their muse for crafting some of the best contemporary fiction in America. Cosponsored by the New York Council for the Humanities.

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