Writers Institute

(left to right) Edmund White, Yusef Komunyakaa, Marie Howe, William Kennedy, UAlbany President Robert Jones

The New York State Writers Institute is one of the great literary resources here in the NYS Capital Region, bringing an A-list writers to the University at Albany, & to the community-at-large, for no charge for their readings, seminars, lectures, even movies. This was all seeded by a “genius award” from the MacArthur Foundation in 1983 to Albany Pulitzer Prize winning author William Kennedy, who continues to serve as Chair, ex officio. Each semester there is an extensive schedule of writers & programs & over the years I have seen/heard/met such writers as Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Ken Kesey, Lawrence Ferglinghetti, Ed Sanders, Nadime Gordimer, Derek Walcott, Jean Valentine, Carolyn Forché, I can go on & on. But the City of Albany & the surrounding area is also the home of other active, dynamic literary & arts organizations that also present events on a weekly, monthly schedule. So there are frequent conflicts among events & I tend to go to the community events where the numbers are smaller.

However, sometimes there is a perfect storm of poets at the Writers Institute & I’ve just got to be there. Such a conjunction included a visit from my 3 Guys from Albany buddy Charlie Rossiter; the celebration of the new New York State Writer & Poet; a poet who had read at my Poets in the Park series; & poet another poet I felt I just wanted to hear, all within a week — whoo – ho!

It all began with a visit from Charlie on the night of the ceremony on February 11 to present The New York State Edith Wharton Citation of Merit to State Author Edmund White, & The New York State Walt Whitman Citation of Merit to State Poet Yusef Komunyakaa, so off went Charlie & I to Page Hall. Charlie & I are both fans of Koumunyakaa’s poetry, & I think that White’s biography of Jean Genet is a model of how to write about an author & their work. It was an evening of accolades & readings &, as happens at these events at the Writers Institute, a chance to speak to to the writers informally afterwards.

This was followed on February 16 with the appearance of poets Randall Horton & Jacqueline Jones LaMon to do a seminar & reading. Randall had been a Ph.D. student here at the UAlbany when I had featured him in the Poets in the Park series in July 2009. I was only able to make the afternoon seminar which was mostly a Q&A with most the questions from students. Both Randall & Jacqueline have been Fellows at Cave Canem & Jacqueline is the president of Cave Canem, & both talked about the importance of the organization for emerging black writers & about the valuing of mentoring of each other.

Then on Thursday, February 18 I attended an afternoon reading by Sherwin Bitsui, whose work I did not know. The event was already on my calendar when I saw a notice on social network sites from Nicole Peyrafitte urging folks to go to this reading.  He read to a packed room in the Science Library (where the Writers Institute is housed), from his books Shapeshift (2003) & Flood Song (2009), as well as new work. The poet is a Diné (Navajo) from Arizona & his work reflects the desert, the geography & the people, with images from the modern world, mixing water & gasoline, wire & sagebrush, engaging poetry with roots in the poetry of surrealism.

Thank you Writers Institute for bringing these (& other) writers here — & thanks for being here.


This post originally appeared on Dan Wilcox’s blog on Thursday, February 25, 2016.