ALBANY — The upcoming season of the New York State (NYS) Writers Institute will include a discussion of AI technology and how it affects writers, along with a celebration of the legacy of an iconic Albany college.
“We’re highlighting the 180th anniversary of the University of Albany,” said Director Paul Grondahl, who described the University of Albany as the organization’s home. “I can’t stress enough the support of the University of Albany.”
NYS Writers Institute founder William Kennedy was a professor at the University of Albany. The school remains close to the mission of the Institute, ever since Kennedy used part of his MacArthur Fellowship grant in 1983 to turn the NYS Writers Institute into a haven of literature in the Capital Region.
“We’ve been going strong ever since,” said Grondahl. “We love that he comes and gives us inspiration and guidance. He’s still very much involved in everything we do.”
To honor the anniversary of the University of Albany, writers with specific connections to Albany will be highlighted this season for the NYS Writers Institute.
“A lot of people don’t realize it’s that old and has such a long history, so we really wanted to focus on it and celebrate some amazing writers who are connected to Albany,” Grondahl said.
The NYS Writers Institute is in its 41st year and has presented more than 2,500 of the world’s great writers throughout their seasons.
“This season is as ambitious and exceptional as any of them,” said Grondahl. “We’ve really got some fantastic authors on the schedule. There’s just a huge variety of genres and really diverse voices. There’s a lot to be excited about.”
The lineup of writers this season includes the former Poet Laureate of the United States, three Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, five National Book Award finalists, and an Oscar-nominated playwright, actor, and director who has won Tony, Obie and Emmy awards.
“There are big books that come out every year, and we’re really proud and honored when authors can choose from many places to go — many bookstores and big cities — but they choose to come to the NYS Writers Institute at the University of Albany because of our reputation,” said Grondahl.
The season begins with Pulitzer Prize winner and National Book Award finalist Paul Harding on Thursday, Jan. 25. His new novel, “This Other Eden” (2023), is based on the true story of a multiracial community that took refuge from intolerance on an island off the coast of Maine from 1792 to 1912.
Paul Harding was involved at the Summer Writers Institute, in which the NYS Writers Institute partners with Skidmore College. Collaboration is essential to the NYS Writers Institute, as they continue to partner with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. On April 19, they will bring Pulitzer Prize-winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith to the Capital Region.
“It’s been going for 25 years or more, and along with RPI, bringing in the Poet Laureate of the United States,” said Grondahl. “Our collaborations are really important to us.”
Some of the many authors coming to Albany in the upcoming months include Elizabeth Benedict on Jan. 31 with her new book “Rewriting Illness: A View of My Own” and Tony/Emmy/Obie award-winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson on Feb. 5.
Non-fiction will also be highlighted in March, as biographers Andrew Kirtzman and Terry Golway will discuss their newly published books on New York City mayors Rudy Giuliani and Fiorello La Guardia on March 18.
On March 20, Pulitzer Prize-winner Tracy Kidder will examine the homelessness crisis, as detailed in his new book, “Rough Sleepers.” “Rough Sleepers,” which is a term for homeless or unhoused people, focuses on a doctor in Boston who’s been taking care of homeless people for over 40 years in Boston. Kidder’s appearance is cosponsored by The Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany, The Homeless and Travelers Aid Society, MVP Health Care, and Unity House of Troy, Inc.
“We’ll be bringing him, and we’re partnering with a lot of the social service agencies that are trying to deal with the growing and worsening homeless crisis in this region,” said Grondahl.
Man Booker International Prize winner Lydia Davis will be featured on March 26. She will be in conversation with Lynne Tillman, who is a current faculty member in the English Department and also a highly regarded writer.
“We’re very excited about Lydia Davis,” said Grondahl. “She’s an acclaimed fiction writer who has been at the University of Faculty at Albany English Department for many years.”
One of America’s most beloved writers and poets will be highlighted on April 18, as Julia Alvarez discusses her new novel, “The Cemetery of Untold Stories.” Alvarez received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama in 2013 and recently had a Barbie doll unveiled in her honor.
“Julia Alvarez does not do a lot of these readings and public appearances, but they come to the Writers Institute because of our history and our reputation,” said Grondahl. “These are writers that really love what we’ve been doing for all these years.”
The upcoming season is designed to showcase the best of the NYS Writers Institute’s past and push it forward to an exciting future.
“We really feel like we bring the power and beauty of literature to many parts of the Capital Region and beyond,” Grondahl continued.
Reflecting on the upcoming season and its writers, he added, “These are books that can change people’s lives and certainly change their hearts and minds. I hope the passion and heart we feel for this comes through. It’s an amazing opportunity.”
For more information and the full schedule, visit www.nyswritersinstitute.org or contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620. Information on the university’s COVID policy: https://www.albany.edu/covid-19/safety-measures.
This story was featured on page 1 of the January 24th, 2024 print edition of the Spot