William Kennedy
NY State Writers Institute founder

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What We Do

“I just want to thank the New York State Writers Institute for inviting me to this space that must be one of the most glorious spaces for a writer to come. It feels, from the minute you walk into the corridors, in fact, from the minutes someone meets you at the station, you feel as if you’ve come into a place that is, for a moment, ready to make itself a home for your heart.”

— Yvette Christiansë, 11/28/06

The Writers Institute’s central aim is to enhance and celebrate literature, writing, and performance, and to recognize the position of writers as a community within the larger community. Books, films, plays, and their creators can provide portals through which the most personal or complex issues of human understanding can be explored.

Mandated by New York's governor and legislature to provide “a milieu for established and aspiring writers to work together. . .to increase the freedom of the artistic imagination,” the New York State Writers Institute is one of America’s premiere sites for promoting the art of the written word.

To meet the challenge of that original mandate the Institute sponsors a diversity of programs including author visits and residencies, film screenings, symposia, panel discussions, stage readings, and writing workshops for adults and high school students. The goal of these programs, most of which are free and open to the public, is to increase access to major authors for students of writing and readers of literature, broaden exposure for emerging authors, and provide important cultural initiatives for the general public.


    Each year the Writers Institute brings 40-50 writers to Albany to conduct informal seminars, writing workshops, and readings as part of its Visiting Writers Series. As of 2016 the Institute has hosted well over 1300 writers, poets, journalists, historians, dramatists, and filmmakers. The list includes eight Nobel Award winners, nearly 200 Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners, several Motion Picture Academy Award winners and nominees, and numerous other literary prize recipients. In addition the Institute has hosted many up-and-coming writers to provide them with exposure at the beginning of their writing careers. Our visiting writers represent not only a diversity of literary genres, but also of academic fields, from art to zoology, but also a diversity of race, language, ethnic origin, religion and lifestyle. Visiting Writers Archive

    The Institute’s Classic Film Series features weekly screenings of domestic and international films of distinction, and film festivals devoted to the work of particular directors, producers, or screenwriters. The series has included rare films culled from archives and private collections, pre-release screenings from major studios, contemporary international offerings, as well as classics made in the U.S. Some of the filmmakers and screenwriters who have visited the Institute have included Hal Ashby, Hector Babenco, Costa-Gavras, Tomas Gutierrez-Alea, James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, Neil Jordan, Spike Lee, Albert Mayseles, Gordon Parks, Sr., Raoul Peck, D.A. Pennebacker and Chris Hegedus, Bob Rafelson, Phil Alden Robinson, Wallace Shawn, Ron Shelton, Christine Vachon, Agnes Varda, and Robert Wise.

    Saratoga Springs has been the summer home of the Institute since 1988. The New York State Summer Writers Institute co-sponsored with the Office of the Dean for Special Programs at Skidmore College,consists of two and four-week workshops in fiction, playwriting and screenwriting, poetry, editing, and translation. These fee-based workshops, which may be taken for college credit, are augmented by nightly readings by nearly 50 faculty and guest visiting writers. The evening readings are free and open to the public.

    The Institute is proud to offer a writing workshop for New York State high-school students each summer at the Institute’ summer home in Saratoga Springs. For a two week in July student writers work closely with professional writers to immerse themselves in poetry, prose, and creative nonfiction.Running concurrently with the NYS Summer Writers Institute, students attend evening readings by such prestigious authors as Ann Beattie, Russell Banks, Joyce Carol Oates, Jamaica Kincaid, Michael Ondaatje, and Robert Pinsky. Selections from the students’ work are annually published in a bound anthology and on the Internet. Admission to the Young Writers Institute is limited, competitive, and open to high school students (grades 10-12).

    By special mandate in 1985, the Institute was selected by the New York State Legislature to award 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. State Author and State Poet laureates have included : Edmund White and Yusef Komunyakaa (2016 – 2018); Marie Howe and Alison Lurie (2013 – 2014); Mary Gordon and Jean Valentine (2008 – 2010); Russell Banks and Billy Collins (2004-2006); Kurt Vonnegut and John Ashbery (2001-2003), James Salter and Sharon Olds (1997-1999); Peter Matthiessen and Jane Cooper (1995-97); William Gaddis and Richard Howard (1993-95); Norman Mailer and Audre Lorde (1991-93); E. L. Doctorow and Robert Creeley (1989-91); Grace Paley and Stanley Kunitz (1987-89).

    The Institute offers Community Writers Workshops for members of the community in a variety of genres and levels throughout the academic year. Offered free of charge participants are selected based on the submission of writing samples. Past workshops have include introductory, intermediate and advanced sessions in poetry, fiction, and screenwriting, writing memoir, investigative poetry/prose, creative nonfiction and science writing. Workshop instructors have included poets Carolyn Forche, John Montague, Joan Murray, and Edward Sanders, fiction writers Elizabeth Benedict, Angela Carter, Lydia Davis, and, James Lasdun, and nonfiction writers LeAnne Schreiber and Richard Selzer.

    The New York State Writers Institute's Authors Theatre was created to bring dramaturgy and audience response into the creative writing process by exploring the literary dimension of plays in progress, rather than showcasing productions of finished works. The series has benefited playwrights and audiences alike by creating a space where focused audience-author discourse contributes meaningfully to the shaping of a dramatic work at the same time that it demystifies the creative process. Dramatic staged readings in the series have included works by Russell Banks, Mary Gallagher, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Jeffrey Hatcher, William Kennedy, Neil LaBute, Anna Manahan, Robert Pinsky, Frank Pugliese, Richard Russo, Sandra Seaton, Richard Selzer, Dava Sobel, Robert Stone, Lisa Thompson, and with special one-woman shows by actresses Billie Whitelaw and Irene Worth. Warren Leight's Sideman, which received a staged reading in the series, went on to prominence both off and on Broadway.

    Founded in 1997, the Writers Online Magazine was the Institute's electronic magazine of reviews, interviews, and feature articles on the writers and books shaping contemporary literature; it also included transcripts of conference events, seminars, and readings taken from the continually expanding Institute archives. . In recent years, the magazine content has been incorporated into the Institute’s blog and website.

    In the spring of 2007, the Writers Institute and the University at Albany inaugurated a partnership with  Fence Magazine, and its publishing arm, Fence Books. Broadly recognized as one of the foremost literary journals in the United States, Fence has entered its second decade of publication. FENCE


CONTACT INFORMATION: Science Library, SL 320 | University at Albany, NY 12222 | Phone 518-442-5620 | Fax 518-442-5621 | email writers@uamail.albany.edu