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William Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, is the founder and Executive Director of the New York State Writers Institute. For some 40 years, Kennedy has used his hometown of Albany, New York as the inspiration for his work, crafting history and memory into an “Albany of the imagination.” His novels include Changó’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes (2011), Roscoe (2002), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award; The Flaming Corsage (1996); Very Old Bones (1992); Quinn’s Book (1988); Ironweed (1983), which received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game (1978); Legs (1975); and The Ink Truck (1969). Kennedy has also written two nonfiction books, O Albany! (1983), and Riding the Yellow Trolley Car (1993), as well as the screenplay for the film version of Ironweed (1987).

Paul Grondahl Director, began his position in February 2017. He is the third director in the Writers Institute’s 34-year history. Grondahl is an author and an award-winning journalist who worked at the Albany Times Union for 32 years, starting in 1984. He is the recipient of numerous state and national writing prizes, including the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Award for Feature Reporting for a series on transgender people and the Scripps Howard National Journalism Award for a project on the impact of HIV/AIDS that took him to Malawi in Africa. He is the author of several books, including “Mayor Corning: Albany Icon, Albany Enigma” (1997) and “I Rose like a Rocket: The Political Education of Theodore Roosevelt” (2004). Grondahl earned a master’s degree in English at the University at Albany in 1984 and he was honored in 2005 as a distinguished alumnus in arts and letters by the UAlbany Alumni Association.

Edward Schwarzschild is Associate Professor of English at UAlbany and a Fellow at the New York State Writers Institute. He is the author of Responsible Men (2005), which was a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year, a Book Sense Notable Pick, and a finalist for both the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Samuel Goldberg & Sons Foundation Prize for Jewish Fiction. His stories and essays have appeared in such places as The Believer, Moment, StoryQuarterly, and The Yale Journal of Criticism. His story collection, The Family Diamond, was published in September 2007.

Langdon Brown is a Distinguished Fellow Emeritus of the Institute and Associate Professor of English at UAlbany. He serves as director of the Institute’s Authors Theatre program, for which he wrote stage adaptations of Richard Russo’s Mohawk and Russell Banks’ The Moor and directed staged readings of plays in development by Bill C. Davis and Sandra Seaton. Brown is a theatrical director who received his Ph.D. in theatre history and dramatic literature from Cornell University.

Lynne Tillman is a Distinguished Fellow Emeritus and the author of the novels Haunted Houses, Cast in Doubt, Motion Sickness, and No Lease on Life (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, 1998). Her story collections are The Madame Realism Complex, Absence Makes the Heart, and most recently, This Is Not It. Her nonfiction books are Bookstore: The Life and Times of Jeannette Watson; The Broad Picture, an essay collection, and The Velvet Years: Warhol’s Factory 1965-67, photographs by Stephen Shore. Tillman’s writing has been widely anthologized and has appeared in, among others 110 Stories: New York Writes After 9/11, The Norton Anthology of Postmodern Literature, Tin House, McSweeney’s, The Time Out Book of New York Short Stories, and The New Gothic. She has written for Nest, The New York Times Book Review, Art in America, Artforum, Frieze, Bookform, and is also a contributing editor to Bomb. She is a faculty member at the University at Albany, fiction editor of Fence, and a Fellow of the Writers Institute.

Rebecca Wolff’s first book, Manderley, was chosen by Robert Pinsky for the National Poetry Series, and was published by the University of Illinois Press in 2001. Her second book, Figment, won the 2002 Barnard Women Poets Prize and was published by W.W. Norton and Co. in the spring of 2004. She has received fellowships from the Iowa Writers Workshop and the MacDowell Colony. She has served as Programs Coordinator to the Poetry Society of America and as Director of Development and Marketing at Bomb Magazine. Wolff is the founding editor and publisher of Fence and Fence Books, and lives in the Hudson Valley of New York.

Lydia Davis, is a Distinguished Fellow Emeritus, acclaimed fiction writer and translator received one of 25 MacArthur Foundation “Genius” awards in fall 2003. In granting the award the MacArthur Foundation praised Davis’s work for showing “how language itself can entertain, how all that what one word says, and leaves unsaid, can hold a reader’s interest. . . . Davis grants readers a glimpse of life’s previously invisible details, revealing new sources of philosophical insights and beauty.” Davis’s most recent fiction collections are Varieties of Disturbance (2007), and Samuel Johnson is Indignant (2001). The French government named Davis a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters for her fiction and her distinguished translations of works by Maurice Blanchot, Pierre Jean Jouve, Michel Butor, and others, and her widely noted translation of Proust’s Swann’s Way (2003). Davis’s previous works include Almost No Memory (stories, 1997), The End of the Story (novel, 1995), Break It Down (stories, 1986), Story and Other Stories (1983), and The Thirteenth Woman (stories, 1976). Davis is a Fellow of the Writers Institute.

James Lasdun is a fiction writer, poet and screenwriter. Born and raised in England, Lasdun has received awards and critical praise for his work on both sides of the Atlantic, including the Dylan Thomas Award for short fiction, the Sundance Film Festival Best Dramatic Feature and Best Screenplay awards, the Times Literary Supplement Poetry Competition Award, the United Kingdom National Short Story Prize, the Eric Gregory Award of the Society of Authors (for poetry), and the Guggenheim fellowship for poetry. He is the author of two novels, including The Horned Man (2002)and Seven Lies (2005); three story collections, including The Siege and Other Stories (2000); and five volumes of poetry, including Landscape with Chainsaw (2001). His short story “The Siege” was adapted as a major motion picture directed by Bernardo Bertolucci.

Kevin Jack Hagopian is a Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at Penn State University, where he teaches courses in film theory and American film history. He was formerly the Editor of the Film Literature Index at the University at Albany. Kevin holds a Ph.D. in Cinema Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has been writing film notes for the Institute’s Classic Film Series since 1996.

Suzanne Lance is Associate Director of the Writers Institute. Prior to coming to the Institute in 1989 she served as Special Projects Officer for Toni Morrison in her position as Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities at UAlbany. For seventeen years Suzanne was editor of Adirondack Peeks, the biannual magazine of the Adirondack Forty-Sixers. She  has recently written a comprehensive history of the organization for its upcoming book.

Mark Koplik, Assistant Director, has worked for the Writers Institute since 1993. He holds degrees in English and American Literature from Yale and Brandeis. He coordinates the Institute’s Classic Film Series, researches film and literary programming, and writes publicity and informational materials. He also served as writer and co-producer of the PBS-Writers Institute documentary, Israel: Language, Landscape and Dreams (2002).

Janet Topal, Art Director, has worked for the Writers Institute since 2000. She has a Bachelor Degree in Fine Arts from the University at Albany. She designs and produces brochures, events booklets, posters and print material for departmental programs. She also redesigned and maintains the Institute's web site.

John Warren has been the Writers Institute's media specialist since 2008, following a career as a journalist and documentary television producer. John founded the popular online news journal Adirondack Almanack and is a weekly contributor to North Country Public Radio. He earned a master’s degree in Public History at the University at Albany, edits The New York History Blog, and is the author of two books of regional history.

Former Full-Time Staff

Charmaine Cadeau is a fifth-year PhD student in UAlbany’s Department of English. She received her MA in Creative Writing from the University of New Brunswick.  Her research interests include contemporary American lyric poetry and postcolonial studies. Charmaine is a graduate assistant at the Writers Institute 

Erin Booy was the Secretary/Administrative Assistant at the Writers Institute, joining the staff in February 2007. Before becoming an integral part of the Institute’s team, she worked in Undergraduate Admissions on the UAlbany campus. “Working in the Writers Institute has been a wonderful experience thus far and I really enjoy all the opportunities that are available to me to meet new people and participate in all of our events.”

Judith Axenson was at the NYS Writers Institute from October 1986 to September 2007 and at the University at Albany for over 38 years. In addition to her administrative duties with the Writers Institute, she also created and managed the Institute’s website. Her University service included serving on a Presidential Search Committee, the President’s Programs and Priorities Advisory Panel, the Women’s Concerns Committee, and the Campus Day Care Advisory Panel. She is involved with Therapy Dog visits to area nursing homes with her black Lab mix, Dexter. They are also members of a Disaster Stress Relief team of dogs and handlers.

Jeanne Finley was Assistant to the Directors of the New York State Writers Institute from its inception in January of 1984 to 1991. She is a fiction writer and poet. Her memoir Travel reconstructs her parents’ lives in Buffalo, New York in the 1920s and in the central Adirondacks in the 1970s and 80s. The memoir was generated in Le Anne Schreiber’s Writers Institute nonfiction workshop in 1998, and was developed in a subsequent Master Class Schreiber taught for the Institute in spring 1999.

Tom Smith
was the Associate Director from August 6, 1984 until his untimely death September 26, 1994 and was instrumental in the founding and establishment of the Institute for the first 10 years. Tom was also a long-time faculty member in UAlbany’s English Department. William Kennedy spoke the following words at Tom’s memorial service:

"He played a role in the creation and development of the Writers Institute that is difficult to evaluate, for his literary acumen, his brilliance as a scholar, his omnivorous way of reading—he would read two books a night—-and in the role he seemed to have been born for—interviewer of writers—will not be duplicated by any single individual. Tom could speak the language of the Russian historian, the Greek poet, the radical politician, the avant garde playwright. We’ll need a team of people to replace Tom. And for some of us there will be no replacement." — William Kennedy

For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at https://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.