Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Luis Gutierrez tells his favorite joke

Luis Gutierrez, Congressman, immigration rights crusader and UAlbany alum, is interviewed this
month on Politico.

Gutierrez visited the Writers Institute on October 18th to present his new memoir, Still Dreaming: My Journey from the Barrio  to Capitol Hill (2013).

Tell us your favorite joke.

How about a recent Letterman joke about the shutdown: “People are saying that Republicans got nothing out of the deal. Not true. They got eight years of Hillary.”

When is the last time you used profanity?

Pretty much anytime comprehensive immigration reform is delayed or has a setback. So more often than I should.


Luis Gutierrez's appearance at the University at Albany on the Writers Institute YouTube channel:

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The Woman Upstairs on multiple "Best Books" lists

Claire Messud's novel The Woman Upstairs, about a woman who lives on the fringes of other people's achievements, was featured on several Best Books of 2013 lists, including those appearing in The Guardian, Washington Post, and The Irish Independent.

From the Guardian: "Original and daring is Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs (Virago), an extraordinarily brilliant book, fizzing with anger and wit...."

Messud visited the Writers Institute in 2006 and 1999.

More about her last visit:

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

New Yorker's Best Books of 2013

The New Yorker asked its critics to pick the best 3 or 4 books they read this year (not necessarily new books). Part one of the list appeared December 10th.

Among the books by past visitors to the Writers Institute who appear on the various lists so far are Seeing Things by the late Seamus Heaney (pictured here), Metaphysical Dog by Frank Bidart, Stay, Illusion by Lucie Brock-Broido, Chasing Utopia by Nikki Giovanni, My Education by Susan Choi and A Permanent Member of the Family by Russell Banks.

Article in the New Yorker:

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NPR's Best Books of 2013

NPR's list of the 200 Best Books of 2013 is replete with books by past and recent visitors to the New York State Writers Institute, including  Ayana Mathis (pictured here), who came this month to present The Twelve Tribes of Hattie; Goli Taraghi who came in October to present The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons; James Salter who visited last April to present All That Is; and George Saunders who came last February to present Tenth of December.

Other past visitors on the list include Ruth Ozeki, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jill Lepore, Nikki Giovanni, Edwidge Danticat, Ben Katchor, Howard Norman, Julian Barnes, Margaret Atwood, Frank Bidart, Susan Choi, Charles Simic, Gregory Orr, Robert Pinsky, Alice McDermott, Tom Barbash, Nicholas Delbanco, Dave Eggers, James McBride, Meg Wolitzer, and Karen Russell.

Complete NPR list:

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Writers Institute Holiday Book List

Are you searching for a book for that hard-to-please person on your holiday gift list? To help you narrow down your choices here are a few recommendations of recent books by a number of writers who visited the Writers Institute in 2013. The list represents different genres and subject matter that should appeal to a wide range of tastes and interests. And while you are looking for that special gift for someone else, you just may find something for yourself....


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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Remembering a "Rock Star" Gangster in the Times Union

Paul Grondahl writes about legendary Capital Region gangster Legs Diamond with some anecdotes supplied by William Kennedy and attorney E. Stewart Jones:

The Collar City was Mob City in the Prohibition era, and no bootlegger was a bigger rock star of the underworld than Jack "Legs" Diamond.

He swaggered through throngs lined up on the sidewalks around the Rensselaer County Courthouse, where he was put on trial two weeks before Christmas in 1931 on charges of kidnapping and assault.

Diamond walked a few blocks across Second Street each morning to the courthouse from the office of his lawyer, Abbott Jones, and basked in the adulation of Trojans who shouted Diamond's name, cheered and reached out to clasp his hand.....

More in the Times Union:

Picture: NYPD mugshot of Jack Diamond.

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Monday, December 9, 2013

Michael Kammen, Historian of the American Psyche, Dies

Michael Kammen, Pulitzer Prize-winning cultural historian who visited the Writers Institute in 2007, has died.

From the New York Times obituary:

Michael Kammen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian whose scholarly aim was no less than the illumination of the collective American psyche, died on Nov. 29 in Ithaca, N.Y. He was 77.

Professor Kammen (pronounced KAY-man) received the 1973 Pulitzer for history for People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization, published the previous year. That book sought to describe the national character from the country’s earliest days to the 20th century.

More in the Times:

More about Kammen's visit to UAlbany to discuss his book, Visual Shock: A History of Art Controversies in American Culture  (2006):

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Always an Ink-Stained Wretch

Bill Kennedy talks about his career in journalism and the history of the UAlbany Journalism Program in the current issue of Columbia Journalism Review:

"I was not privy to the arrival of the Journalism Program at the University at Albany, and I heard it had a somewhat uncertain birth. The program as Bill Rowley conceived it was pragmatic, professional, idealistic, literary, and peppered with journalists from the real world of news reporting. This opposed another idea that was on the table in the English Department: to present journalism as a textbook course, with excursions into municipal history, the history of journalism and who knows what else? Bill’s idea prevailed, I don’t know why, but he was a persuasive and insistent fellow. He wanted his students to step lively into their journalistic careers after graduation, but also to be educated in history, politics, literature, and, above all, to know how to write when they did so."


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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ayana Mathis Tonight

Here's an interview in the Times Union:

Q: Your first book was chosen for Oprah's Book Club. What has that done in terms of sales and also any pressure you may feel about your next book?
A: Certainly, the book has reached more folks than it would have otherwise. We make distinctions, which are both useful and harmful, about fiction, and sometimes readers are intimidated by classifications like literary fiction. I think we also have a tendency to label books — as an African-American story or Latino story or gay story, etc. — which results in readers thinking that perhaps a book won't resonate with them, because of whatever differences they perceive between their lives and the characters' lives. This isn't true, of course. Literature reaches across all of those kinds of false barriers.
The Oprah book club's greatest strength is that it makes a great variety of books accessible to people who may not otherwise have found them or been attracted to them. It's as though she's walking the books she chooses into living rooms and book clubs across the country, and people are a bit more willing to take a chance on them. Of course, that translates into sales, but I think the real boon has more to do with readers finding their way to books that are meaningful to them.


More about Mathis's visit today to UAlbany:

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Longest Shot in Motion Picture History

Russian Ark will be screened tomorrow, 7:30, at Page Hall.

J. Hoberman, former film guru at the Village Voice, who visited the Writers Institute in December 2012, reviews Russian Ark as one of the key films of the dawning 21st century in his influential book, The Future of Film.

"The ultimate trip, a post-2001 space odyssey, Alexander Sokurov’s "Russian Ark" is the longest continuous take in the annals of motion pictures, a single ninety-six-minute tracking shot in which the invis- ible narrator (Sokurov) and a historical figure, the nineteenth-century French Marquis de Custine (Sergey Dreiden), accompany a lively group of dead souls across several centuries and through thirty-three rooms of the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg."

Larger excerpt here:

NYS Writers Institute Classic Film Series here:

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Literary Life Where You Find

An article in the TU in association with tomorrow's event:

Thursday, November 7th, at 6 pm, at the Stair Gallery, 549 Warren Street, Hudson. For more information, contact the Hudson Library at 518.828.1792.

The TU's Amy Griffin writes:

In 2010, Patti Smith gave some advice to young artists: "New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling. But there are other cities. Detroit. Poughkeepsie. New York has been taken away from you. So my advice is: Find a new city."

These sentiments were echoed more recently when David Byrne, former frontman of Talking Heads, wrote for Creative Time Reports that New York City is becoming increasingly inhospitable to creativity and that "the cultural part of the city — the mind — has been usurped by the top 1 percent."

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Exterminating Angel: "Like rats in an overpopulation study"

Friday's film at Page Hall is Luis Bunuel's The Exterminating Angel (1962)-- part of the Food, Crime and Justice film series, cosponsored by the School of Criminal Justice. William Kennedy, novelist, screenwriter and Institute Executive Director, and Donald Faulkner, Institute Director, will provide commentary after the film.

Here's a review and reassessment by the late Roger Ebert that appeared in May 1997:

The dinner guests arrive twice. They ascend the stairs and walk through the wide doorway, and then they arrive again--the same guests, seen from a higher camera angle. This is a joke and soon we will understand the punch line: The guests, having so thoroughly arrived, are incapable of leaving.

Luis Bunuel's "The Exterminating Angel" (1962) is a macabre comedy, a mordant view of human nature that suggests we harbor savage instincts and unspeakable secrets. Take a group of prosperous dinner guests and pen them up long enough, he suggests, and they'll turn on one another like rats in an overpopulation study.


More about the event:

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Douglas Bauer on Marriage, Aging, Life, Death

Douglas Bauer, who visits the Writers Institute tomorrow, 10/29, to present his new book, What Happens Next, Matters of Life and Death, is interviewed by Elizabeth Floyd Mair in the Times Union.

Q: What was the most surprising thing that you learned in the course of writing this book?

A: That I could write it. Until now, all my nonfiction has been about other people. Or it's concerned itself with literary matters. And I struggled in this book to find a balance between what seemed necessary to reveal about myself and my great reluctance to reveal anything, however important to the narrative.

More in the TU:

More about Bauer's visit:

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"Essayist Douglas Bauer examines future exquisitely"

Douglas Bauer's new collection of essays about life and death and his Iowa farm boyhood is reviewed in his hometown newspaper, the eastern Iowa Gazette, October 27, 2013:

"While it’s common to wonder what happens after we die, it’s not as common — or as pleasing a discussion at a party, say — to speculate on how we will age and eventually pass."

"However, this question posed itself quite plainly to author and essayist Douglas Bauer when, in his early sixties, he found himself needing a series of routine surgical procedures. As he was waking up from the first of two cataract surgeries, Bauer received word that his mother passed away.This experience was the catalyst for Bauer’s moving collection of personal essays, 'What Happens Next?' (University of Iowa Press)."

Read more in The Gazette:

Read more about Douglas Bauer's event tomorrow, Tuesday, 10/28:

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Stig Dagerman Celebration Tonight

Impressive praise blurbs grace the cover of Sleet, a new collection of stories in English translation by Swedish author Stig Dagerman, translated by former Writers Institute grad assistant Steven Hartman. The book also features an introduction by National Book Award winner Alice McDermott. The collection will be available for sale tonight at Page Hall at a celebration of Stig Dagerman's life and works, featuring films and readings, and a discussion with Steve Hartman and Lo Dagerman, Stig's daughter.

Picture: Steve Hartman

More about tonight's event:

Dagerman wrote with beautiful objectivity. Instead of emotive phrases, he uses a choice of facts, like bricks, to construct an emotion. --Graham Greene

An imagination that appeals to an unreasonable degree of sympathy is precisely what makes Dagerman s fiction so evocative. Evocative not, as one might expect, of despair, or bleakness, or existential angst, but of compassion, fellow-feeling, even love. --from the preface by Alice McDermott

Stig Dagerman writes with the tension that belongs to emergency—deliberately, precisely, breathlessly. To read Dagerman is to read with your whole body—lungs, heart, viscera, as well as mind. At once remote and intimate in tone, these works by one of the great twentieth-century writers come fully to life in a remarkable translation by Steven Hartman.
—Siri Hustvedt, author of The Summer Without Men

Stig Dagerman s fearless, moving stories should be placed alongside the short fiction of such luminaries as James Joyce, Anton Chekhov, and Raymond Carver. You ll find yourself holding your breath in wonder as you read, grateful to Dagerman (and Steven Hartman) for the gift of these stories. --Edward Schwarzschild, author of The Family Diamond

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Goli Taraghi in the Times Union

Susan Comninos interviews Goli Taraghi, major voice in Iranian literature who visits Albany today.

"An intriguing time warp exists in the fiction of Persian expatriate author Goli Taraghi. While many fear rising nuclear capability in today's Iran, Taraghi, 74, remains gripped by her homeland's past. Decades after the 1979 revolution that toppled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Taraghi, in her new collection of short stories, "The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons" (W.W. Norton, Oct. 23, 2013), continues to chronicle the lives of exiles like herself, who fled to Western countries from the Islamic Republic. For Taraghi, their exodus is a trauma that never ended, but keeps getting painfully re-enacted."

More in the Times Union:

More about Goli Taraghi's visit:

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Profile of Luis Gutierrez in Rolling Stone

Congressman Luis Gutierrez, Latino civil rights leader who visits Albany tomorrow to talk about his new memoir, Still Dreaming, is profiled and interviewed by Ed Morales in a recent issue of Rolling Stone:

"I wish a had a nickel for every time I had to write 'I will not talk in class' on the blackboard in grade school," says Gutiérrez, 59, calling from his office in Washington. "Some people are born talkers, and I wrote this book as though you were having a conversation with me." Fully conversant in Spanglish, Gutiérrez switches from Chicago street mode to island Spanish easily because of his family's move back to Puerto Rico while he was still in high school. While the transition was a little awkward – island locals were quick to call him a "gringo" because of his imperfect Spanish – he learned something important about himself there.

More in Rolling Stone:

More about Gutierrez's visit:

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National Book Award Finalists

Finalists for the 2013 National Book Award have been announced.

Among them are five past visitors to the New York State Writers Institute: James McBride and George Saunders for Fiction; Jill Lepore for Nonfiction; and Frank Bidart and Lucie Brock-Broido for Poetry.

The awards ceremony is scheduled for November 20.

Full list in the New York Times:

Picture: Jill Lepore.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Looking back, and ahead, at journalism

Paul Grondahl talks about Bill Kennedy's appearance at the 40th anniversary celebration of UAlbany Journalism Program founder Bill Rowley last week:

Bill Kennedy was talking last week about his late, great friend Bill Rowley founding the University at Albany journalism program in 1973 — he was Rowley's first hire — and as the newspaperman-turned-novelist assessed the current state of journalism, his mood turned dark.

"Newsweek is gone. Time magazine is just a tattered print unit of Time Warner Cable," he said. "All the TV networks seem to have slid into the swamp of celebrity. The Times seems to be surviving, but I don't know how small papers can survive."

His talk was the centerpiece of what was billed as a 40th anniversary celebration, but as a truth-teller addressing an auditorium of professional skeptics and aspiring cynics, his forecast was stormy with a chance of extinction.

Kennedy quoted the prophecy of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, new owner of the Washington Post, who once said that newspapers as we know them will be gone in 20 years. "That does not seem unreasonable to me," Kennedy added.

More in the Times Union:

Picture: UAlbany undergraduate intern Michelle Checchi, a junior journalism major at UAlbany.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Grayce Burian-- Love, Europe, Stage

Bill Buell contributes an article to the Schenectady Gazette discussing Grayce Burian's book about her 54 years of marriage to the late theatre scholar Jarka Burian.

"Writing it was a kind of healing, and I'm glad I did it and I'm glad I could do it," said Burian. "Just to have if for my family was important. Originally I had no intention of publishing it."

Grayce Burian is a retired theatre scholar herself, and a key figure in the Capital Region's theatre community. Through the Jarka & Grayce Susan Burian Endowment, she supports the annual Burian Lecture Series on the Theatre, cosponsored by the NYS Writers Institute and UAlbany Department of Theatre.

Picture: Grayce with filmmaker John Sayles at the Writers Institute, February 2012.

Full article here:

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Luis Gutierrez Coming This Friday

Luis Gutierrez, Congressman and major figure in the immigration reform movement will visit the
Writers Institute on Friday, October 18, to present his new memoir, Still Dreaming (2013).

Elizabeth Floyd Mair published an interview with Gutierrez over the weekend in the Times Union.

Q: Your first successful election in Chicago as alderman helped begin to dismantle the Democratic machine that had controlled local politics for decades. We know something about political machines here in Albany, too. What are some of the key points in dismantling one?

A: Ending patronage, No. 1. And patronage comes in two types: There is the seating your unqualified buddy for a job, a buddy whose qualification is the work he does politically — not how talented he is as a carpenter or as an architect or as a city planner, but how talented he is at raising money and making sure that people vote for you. The other kind is pin-striped patronage, when it isn't the person with the lowest bid and the best product who gets the work, but the person with the closest relationship politically with those at City Hall.

More in the Times Union:

More about the Congressman's visit:

Picture: House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., gives his opening remarks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, during the committee's hearing on America's Immigration System: Opportunities for Legal Immigration and Enforcement of Laws against Illegal Immigration. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Alice Munro Wins Nobel Prize

STOCKHOLM (AP) - Alice Munro, a Canadian master of the short story revered as a thorough but forgiving chronicler of the human spirit, won the Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday.

Munro is the first Canadian writer to receive the prestigious $1.2 million award from the Swedish Academy since Saul Bellow, who left for the U.S. as a boy and won in 1976.

Seen as a contemporary Chekhov for her warmth, insight and compassion, she has captured a wide range of lives and personalities without passing judgment on her characters. Unusually for Nobel winners, Munro's work consists almost entirely of short stories. "Lives of Girls and Women" is her only novel.

"I knew I was in the running, yes, but I never thought I would win," the 82-year-old said by telephone when contacted by The Canadian Press in Victoria, British Columbia.

Munro is beloved among her peers, from Lorrie Moore and George Saunders to Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Franzen. She is equally admired by critics. She won a National Book Critics Circle prize for "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage," and is a three-time winner of the Governor General's prize, Canada's highest literary honor.

More from the Associated Press:

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Monday, October 7, 2013

William Kennedy Celebrates the UAlbany Journalism Program

Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of UAlbany’s Journalism Program
October 9 (Wednesday)
Lecture/Discussion by William Kennedy — 4:00 p.m., Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center, Uptown Campus 

Picture:  Bill as a young reporter.

William Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and founder of the New York State Writers Institute, will help the UAlbany Journalism Program celebrate its 40th anniversary with a lecture on “William Rowley: Journalism and Social Justice.” Rowley, a former editor at the Knickerbocker News and Professor of English at the University, founded the Journalism Program in 1973. An anti-war activist who also taught in the prisons, Rowley believed that journalism and social justice were natural allies, with journalism being a useful tool for developing “imagination, critical intelligence, and intellectual independence.” His first hire to teach in the Journalism Program was a local writer named Bill Kennedy. For almost a decade Kennedy taught a course in Advanced Journalism and Magazine Writing. Kennedy will reflect on his years teaching at Albany and the current state of journalism.
Sponsored by UAlbany's Journalism Program in celebration of its 40th anniversary

More about the Journalism Program:

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T. C. Boyle Visits Tomorrow

Q: A lot of your stories in this volume present characters, usually men, who are so self-absorbed that they necessarily veer toward disaster. Is your view of human nature more dark than light?

A: I have lived one of the most fortunate of human lives, surrounded by light and love. I have known my closest friend since I was 3 1/2 years old, my children are slim and tall and beautiful and smarter than all the computers in the world combined, and I remain the only writer in history only to have one wife, the legendary Karen Kvashay, my college sweetheart at SUNY Potsdam.

Still, I do suspect that the universe doesn't care much about any of this or any of us and that accident rules the world. Fiction is a place for examining the darker scenarios, the ones we hope to avoid.

Read more of Elizabeth Floyd Mair's interview in Sunday's Times Union:

T. C. Boyle, fiction writer
October 8 (Tuesday)
Seminar — 4:15 p.m., Standish Room, Science Library, Uptown Campus
Reading — 8:00 p.m., Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center, Uptown Campus
T. C. Boyle, “one of the most inventive and verbally exuberant writers of his generation” (New York Times), is the bestselling author of fourteen novels and nine short story collections. His newest book is T. C. Boyle Stories II (October 2013), a 944-page sequel to T. C. Boyle Stories (1998), winner of the PEN/Malamud Award for Short Fiction. Michael Anderson of the New York Times Book Review described the latter as “700 flashy, inventive pages of stylistic and moral acrobatics.” Boyle’s novels include San Miguel (2012), Drop City (2003), The Road to Wellville (1993), and World’s End (1987).

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Bill Bryson Visits Saturday

Bill Bryson, bestselling nonfiction author, to read from his new book October 5, 2013

"One Summer: America, 1927" tells the story of a pivotal time in America's national "coming of age"
Bill Bryson, one of the best-loved nonfiction writers in the English-speaking world, will read from his new book, One Summer: America, 1927 (2013), the story of a pivotal year in America's national "coming of age," on Saturday, October 5, 2013 at 7:30 p.m. in the Clark Auditorium, NYS Museum, Cultural Education Center, in downtown Albany. The event is free and open to the public, and is sponsored by the New York State Writers Institute, the New York State Library, and Friends of the New York State Library.

Bill Bryson is one of the best-loved nonfiction writers in the English-speaking world. Laugh-out-loud funny and astonishingly scholarly, Bryson's many books on travel, history, science, culture, and the English language have earned him a large following of readers on both sides of the Atlantic. Born and raised in Iowa, Bryson has spent much of his adult life in England, where he was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 2006 for his contributions to British arts and letters. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society and served as Chancellor of Durham University, England's third oldest university, from 2005 to 2011.

Bryson's new book, One Summer: America, 1927 (2013), tells the story of a pivotal time in America's national "coming of age," when media spectacles became the country's obsession. The book features a large cast of colorful characters including celebrity "flyboy" Charles Lindbergh, homerun king Babe Ruth, husband-killer Ruth Snyder, flagpole sitter Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly, gangster Al Capone, jazz singer Al Jolson, do-nothing president Calvin Coolidge, and Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum. In a starred review, Booklist called it, "Glorious," and said, "Bryson offers delicious detail and breathtaking suspense about events whose outcomes are already known." Kirkus called it, "A distinctively drawn time capsule from a definitive epoch."

Bryson's most recent book was the international bestseller, At Home: A Short History of Private Life (2010), an epic chronicle of innovations in domestic architecture, from bathrooms to kitchens. The New York Times Book Review called it "Delightful...," and said, "Bryson's enthusiasm brightens any dull corner... He is fascinated by everything, and his curiosity is infectious." People magazine said, "If this book doesn't supply you with five years' worth of dinner conversation, you're not paying attention." The book will be reissued shortly in a new illustrated edition featuring more than 300 drawings and photographs.

Bryson's bestselling travel books include Bill Bryson's African Diary (2002), about visits to humanitarian projects sponsored by CARE International (which received all proceeds); In a Sunburned Country (2000), about Australia; A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (1998); Notes from a Small Island (1995), about Great Britain; and The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America (1989). Notes from a Small Island was voted the book that best represented Great Britain in a 2003 poll of BBC radio listeners. The New York Times Book Review said of A Walk in the Woods, "Bryson is...great company right from the start-a lumbering, droll, neatnik intellectual who comes off as equal parts Garrison Keillor, Michael Kinsley, and...Dave Barry.... a satirist of the first rank, who writes (and walks) with Chaucerian brio."

A Short History of Nearly Everything (2004), Bryson's book on the history of science, earned the Royal Society's Aventis Prize, as well as the Descartes Prize, the European Union's highest literary award. His books on English language and literature include Shakespeare: The World as Stage (2007), Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words (2002), Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States (1994), and The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way (1990).

For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at



Related Media

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Haunting, Friday at Page Hall


The Haunting

(UK/US, 1963, 112 min., b/w)
7:30 p.m. Page Hall, UAlbany downtown campus, 135 Western Ave., Albany
Listed first in a list of the “11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time” by director Martin Scorsese in the Daily Beast, October 28, 2009
Ranked #13 of the “25 Best Horror Films of All Time” by the critics of The Guardian (UK), October 22, 2010
Steven Spielberg regards The Haunting as one of the “seminal films” of his youth and reportedly told director Robert Wise that it was “the scariest film ever made.” – Judy Sloane in Film Review, June 1995
Between his phenomenally sunny musical successes West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965), director Robert Wise found time to make this brooding, low-key shocker, based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. The material seemed to free up Wise’s baser talents:  The off-kilter, black-and-white photography goes a long way in intensifying the production’s minimal special effects, and the actors uniformly overplay their parts, giving the film a streamlined momentum it might have lacked otherwise. Though the story’s lesbian subtext was toned down for the film, the sleek Claire Bloom injects some much-needed sexual tension into the proceedings; the film is less about the group’s battle against poltergeists than about the inner struggle between the virginal Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) and her conflicting desires. Jackson’s story would be adapted for the screen again, in 1999’s sub-par The Haunting. Michael Hastings,  All Movie Guide

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Friday, September 27, 2013

"The Short Story of Lydia Davis's Man Booker Prize"

Published May 23, 2013:  Lydia Davis was awarded the Man Booker International Prize yesterday. It’s hard not to be pleased when someone wins a prestigious literary award for writing stories as short as this one:

Often I think that his idea of what we should do is wrong, and my idea is right. Yet I know that he has often been right before, when I was wrong. And so I let him make his wrong decision, telling myself, though I can’t believe it, that his wrong decision may actually be right. And then later it turns out, as it often has before, that his decision was the right one, after all. Or, rather, his decision was still wrong, but wrong for circumstances different from the circumstances as they actually were, while it was right for circumstances I clearly did not understand.
More on the New York Times blog:

Lydia Davis meets with the general public on Tuesday, October 1st at UAlbany.

More about her event here:

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Silent Film with Live Piano Tonight!

September 27 (Friday)
 Film screening — 7:30 p.m., Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, Downtown Campus
Directed by Robert Siodmak
(Germany, 1930, 74 minutes, b/w, silent with live piano accompaniment by Mike Schiffer)

The flirtations of a summer Sunday at the beach in Weimar Germany provide the principal content of a film that helped launch the careers of some of 20th century Hollywood’s most influential filmmakers, including Robert Siodmak (THE KILLERS), Billy Wilder (SUNSET BOULEVARD), Fred Zinnemann (FROM HERE TO ETERNITY), horror movie screenwriter Curt Siodmak (THE WOLFMAN), and B-movie king Edgar G. Ulmer (DETOUR). Blending documentary footage and fictional storytelling, the film features the camera work of Eugen Schüfftan, better known for Fritz Lang’s spectacular METROPOLIS (1927)

A review in The Believer by Jessica Winter, former senior editor of Oprah's O. magazine:

The German silent film People on Sunday (Menschen am Sonntag, 1930) bills itself as “a film without actors.” But it’s not without stars—future stars, that is, of the behind-the-camera variety. Billy Wilder, who wrote the spare screenplay, would become one of the preeminent writer-directors of midcentury Hollywood: he made Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard and, in the space of just over one glorious year, Some Like It Hot and The Apartment. The codirectors were Robert Siodmak—who later helmed the sharp Burt Lancaster noirs The Killers (1946) and Criss Cross (1949)—and Edgar G. Ulmer, whose eclectic, super-low-budget résumé would eventually span melodramas, musicals, horror, and the grimy noir masterpiece Detour (1945). The assistant cinematographer was Fred Zinnemann, future director of High Noon (1952) and From Here to Eternity (1953). You can trace the DNA of a golden age in American cinema back to this quasi-documentary snapshot of a weekend in Berlin circa 1930.


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Thursday, September 26, 2013

How to Win a Pulitzer Prize

Gilbert King went from writing about Mr. Potato Head to crafting an award-winning story about racial injustice.

More in The Writer from Susan Kershner Resnick:

Last year, I sent out a request on Facebook asking experienced writers to share advice with my undergraduate writing students. A few snarky responses appeared first: Go to law school; get comfortable with a life of poverty. Then Gilbert King weighed in.

“Work. Read. Work. Think. Work. Write. Work. Connect. Work. Pitch. Same as always,” he wrote.


Gilbert King visits Albany today:

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Rejected by 35 Publishers, Gilbert King

“I also want beginning writers to know that you need some good luck to be successful. This book was rejected by 35 publishers, mostly because my first book didn’t sell very well.”

Gilbert King, Niskayuna native and Pulitzer-winning author of Devil in the Grove, talks to Jack Rightmyer of the Gazette about writing, Thurgood Marshall, boyhood dreams of being a baseball player, and more.

Article in the Gazette:

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Devil in the Grove to be a Major Motion Picture

Devil in the Grove, by Gilbert King (who visits Albany today), will be a Hollywood film from Lionsgate studios, which reportedly sees the film as a high priority.

Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, the co-writers of Ridley Scott's forthcoming biblical epic, Exodus, will write the script. Allison Shearmur, who produced The Hunger Games, is producing.

Read more in Deadline Hollywood:

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Karen Russell, Young Novelist, Wins $500,000 MacArthur Grant!

Karen Russell, who visited us in Feb. 2011, is among the 2013 winners of a half a million dollar MacArthur Fellowship (announced today).

From the MacArthur website:  "Karen Russell is a fiction writer whose haunting yet comic tales blend fantastical elements with psychological realism and classic themes of transformation and redemption. Setting much of her work in the Everglades of her native Florida, she depicts in lyrical, energetic prose an enchanting and forbidding landscape and delves into subcultures rarely encountered in contemporary American literature."

See more at:

More about Russell's visit to Albany with Julie Orringer:

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Gil King, Finalist for 2013 Dayton Literary Peace Prize

Gilbert King, who visits us tomorrow to discuss his 2013 Pulitzer-winning book, Devil in the Grove, which was just named a runner-up for the 2013 Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

More about King's visit:

About the prize:  The Dayton Literary Peace Prize, inaugurated in 2006, is the first and only annual U.S. literary award recognizing the power of the written word to promote peace. The Dayton Literary Peace Prize invites nominations in adult fiction and nonfiction books published within the past year that have led readers to a better understanding of other cultures, peoples, religions, and political points of view. Both awards carry a $10,000 cash prize.


The 2013 winners include Adam Johnson (fiction) for The Orphan Master's Son, which he presented at the Writers Institute in 2012:

Also among the finalists is Louise Erdrich, who visited us back in 1987.

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Gilbert King in the Times Union

"The black women of the town would make him bag lunches to bring to court. The black men would stay up and guard him while he slept. Long before becoming a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall was a charismatic and courageous criminal defense attorney. He believed that the best way to fight Jim Crow laws in the South was to go into the region's courtrooms, despite continuous death threats, to represent falsely accused black defendants."

Elizabeth Floyd Mair of the Times Union profiles and interviews Gilbert King, who visits the Writers Institute this coming Thursday, about his Pulitzer-winning book on an early battle in the legal career of a young Thurgood Marshall, Devil in the Grove.

More in the TU:

Picture:  Thurgood Marshall in 1936 at the beginning of his career with the NAACP.

More about our events with Gil King:

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Gilbert King, Pulitzer Winning Author, to Visit Next Week

Gilbert King, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Devil in the Grove (2012), a nonfiction account of an early case in the legal career of Thurgood Marshall, America's first African-American Supreme Court Justice, will read from and discuss his work on Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 8:00 p.m. in the Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center, on the University at Albany's uptown campus. Earlier that same day at 4:15 p.m., the author will present an informal seminar in the same location. The events are free and open to the public, and are sponsored by the New York State Writers Institute in conjunction with CELEBRATE AND ADVANCE, a weeklong celebration culminating in the inauguration of UAlbany's 19th President, Robert J. Jones, Ph.D.

Gilbert King, Niskayuna native, received the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction for Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America (2012), a meticulously researched, elegantly written account of the future Supreme Court Justice's role in defending four black men falsely accused of raping a white woman in Florida in 1949. Of the four defendants, one was murdered by a white mob before he could stand trial, and two were murdered by the local county sheriff after they had been exonerated by the U. S. Supreme Court.

The Salon reviewer said, "King recreates an important yet overlooked moment in American history with a chilling, atmospheric narrative that reads more like a Southern Gothic novel than a work of history." The book was also named a "Best Book of 2012" by the Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, and Library Journal.

In writing Devil in the Grove, King obtained access to two heretofore unpublished and unpublicized sources of information: the confidential files of the NAACP's Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the unedited files of the FBI. In previous, more comprehensive biographies of Marshall, the Groveland case had been treated as little more than a footnote to a distinguished legal career. King's research, however, brings back to life the shock and drama of a courtroom battle that established important legal precedents on the road to ending Jim Crow laws in the South.

King's relative rise from obscurity has generated a fair amount of interest in the writing community and on the internet. Especially remarked upon is the fact that, after the announcement that he had won the Pulitzer Prize, the surprised author informed a New York Times interviewer, "I'd just gotten a notice from my publisher that the book had been 'remaindered.'" Another ironic detail of King's biography is that he flunked English at Niskayuna High School and had to attend summer school after his junior year, according to an interview with Paul Grondahl of the Times Union.

A featured contributor to the Smithsonian magazine history blog, King is also the author of The Execution of Willie Francis: Race, Murder, and the Search for Justice in the American South (2008), an account of the wrongful conviction and death sentence of a 17-year-old black boy in Louisiana in 1946. The Counterpunch magazine reviewer called it, "...almost certainly the best book on capital punishment in America since Mailer's The Executioner's Song."

King's appearance is sponsored by the New York State Writers Institute in conjunction with "Celebrate and Advance," a weeklong celebration at UAlbany culminating in the inauguration of the new University president, Robert J. Jones. For additional information on all inauguration week events go to: .

For additional information on Gilbert King's appearances, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at

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Enthralling theater and television....

“Enthralling theater and television… This is dramatized legal history of the best kind,” said New York Times reviewer Ginia Bellafante of Friday's film, Thurgood, 7:30 p.m. at Page Hall, 9/20.

Bellafante approaches this piece of filmed theater skeptically at first, but is wildly enthusiastic by the end of her review:

"As a form the teleplay is mired in its own noble pedantry, which is why the arrival of “Thurgood” on HBO on Thursday initially seems dubious — especially so, perhaps, because it is a one-man enterprise even more heavily prone to the sensibility of tutorial."

Full review here:

Full Classic Film Series schedule here:

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

National Book Award Longlist for Nonfiction Announced

Gretel Ehrlich, who visited the Writers Institute this past March, and Jill Lepore, who came in 2005, are among the finalists for the National Book Award in nonfiction.

Full list here:

Ehrlich received the nomination for Facing the Wave (2013), a book that she presented here at the Institute. The book is an account of  Ehlich's travels in Japan in the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and the subsequent meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. A student of Japanese poetry for much of her life, Ehrlich felt compelled to return to Japan to bear witness and record the stories of survivors.
More about Ehrlich (with video of her Albany visit):

Jill Lepore visited in September 2005 to discuss her book about a slave uprising in colonial Manhattan, New York Burning.  Her new book is Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, about the personal ordeals of Benjamin Franklin's unschooled sister.

More about Lepore's visit:

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

National Book Award Poetry Longlist Announced

Three past visitors to the NYS Writers Institute appear on the National Book Award's longlist for the award in poetry.

They include Lucie Brock-Broido, for Stay, Illusion; Andrei Codrescu for So Recently Rent a World, New and Selected Poems: 1968-2012; and Frank Bidart for Metaphysical Dog.

See Frank Bidart speak at the Institute on Youtube in 2008:

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Poet Philip Levine wins $100k Prize

Former United States poet laureate Philip Levine has been awarded the Academy of American Poets’ Wallace Stevens Award for lifetime achievement. The award, which comes with a $100,000 prize, is given annually for “outstanding and proven mastery of the art of poetry.”

Here are some links:

Levine visited the Writers Institute in 1996: A video about the visit aired in 1999 on "The Writer," a series coproduced by the Writers Institute and WMHT.

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Sydney Lea on Poetry

"Poetry can achieve something that's far less available to other modes of human discourse: it can present several thoughts, emotions, impulses, some in apparent flat contradiction of one another, in a single vessel, without seeming merely muddled." --Sydney Lea
Sydney Lea, Vermont Poet Laureate (2011-14) by order of Governor Peter Shumlin, visits tomorrow to share the campfire circle (so to speak) with official New York State Poet Marie Howe. The afternoon event is at UAlbany. The evening event is at the State Museum.


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Marie Howe on Poetry

"Poetry knows that we are living and dying at the same time. It resurrects us. It brings us to our senses. " --Marie Howe

Marie Howe, New York State Poet (2012-14) by order of Governor Andrew Cuomo, under the auspices of the NYS Writers Institute, visits tomorrow to share the pulpit with Vermont Poet Laureate Sydney Lea. The afternoon event is at UAlbany. The evening event is at the State Museum.

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Poetry for Farmers and Retired Roofers

Elizabeth Floyd Mair has a wonderful interview with Vermont poet laureate Syd Lea (who visits Tues.) in Sunday's Times Union:

Q: You've written that if you picture an audience in your mind at all as you write, it's your Vermont hill farm neighbors, who, you note, would never elect to read a word of your poetry. Why write for them?

A: I have a feeling that too much poetry since the era of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot sends this message, whether subliminally or not: "Hey, you can't come in here; you haven't learned the language that we insiders use." One of the reasons I so admire Robert Frost is that any reader — from a first-grader to a graduate student to a farmer to a labor organizer — can get something out of his poems. Those poems are scarcely simple-minded; indeed they are profoundly complex. But complexity is not the same as complication.

Imagining that my beloved 90-year-old neighbor — not a farmer, but a retired roofer — might read a poem of mine and get something out of it too — keeps me from erring toward mere complication.

Read more here:

Read more about Lea's visit:

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Friday, September 13, 2013

A Poem by Sydney Lea, Who Visits Tuesday, Sept. 17

Bestselling food writer Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma), calls Sydney Lea “as fine a companion on the page as American writing about nature has to offer.” Indeed,  Lea is widely regarded as the Robert Frost of his generation.

Lea visits this Tuesday to share the lectern with poet Marie Howe.

More about their visit here:

Much of Lea's poetry is inspired by the natural world and rural Vermont settings. Here's an example, "Cooking by Waters:  An Non-Elegy," which appears on his website. The poem was first published in the Hudson Review, Autumn 2008.

The birch’s skin curls up like an ancient letter.
The sweet smoke makes my breathing harder.
On a streamside fir three goldfinches teeter.
Late sun makes a tumult along their feathers.
In an hour the hermit thrush will have begun.
I accept the bittersweet gift of the weather in fall.
The air’s so clear the only haze is inward.
How did I learn these names and calls?
I can’t be sure. They simply gathered.
Read more of the poem here: (click on "Sampler").

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Two Poets Laureate in Conversation this Tuesday 9/17

Marie Howe, New York State Poet (2012-2014) and Sydney Lea, Vermont Poet Laureate (2011-2014) will read from their work and discuss the role of poetry in society on Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 8:00 p.m. in the Huxley Theatre, NYS Museum, Cultural Education Center in downtown Albany. Earlier that same day at 4:15 p.m., the poets will present an informal seminar in the Standish Room, Science Library, on the University at Albany uptown campus. The events are free and open to the public, and are cosponsored by the New York State Writers Institute and Friends of the New York State Library.

Marie Howe and Sydney Lea, reigning state poets of New York and Vermont, will present a joint reading and discuss the role of poetry in today's society.

Appointed State Poet (2012 – 2014) by Governor Andrew Cuomo under the auspices of the NYS Writers Institute, Marie Howe is the author of three collections of poetry: The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (2008), What the Living Do (1997), and The Good Thief (1988), which was selected by Margaret Atwood for the National Poetry Series. The Rochester native and New York City resident is also the past recipient of the Lavan Younger Poets Prize of the American Academy of Poets. In 1995, she coedited the bestselling anthology, In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic (with Michael Klein), which helped many AIDS victims "find their voices" as poets and storytellers. She currently teaches at NYU where she is launching a Fall 2013 course entitled "Poetry Everywhere," an immersive production class which seeks to put poetry in unexpected New York City public spaces.

Howe is widely admired for poetry that seeks answers to metaphysical questions in ordinary day-to-day experience. In her work, little incidents and inconsequential memories help to shed light on the nature of the soul and the self, as well as the meaning of life, death, love, pain, hope, despair, sin, virtue, solitude, community, impermanence and the eternal. Playwright Eve Ensler said of her most recent collection, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, "These poems made me gasp. Each one a revelation, a lifeline, a domestic galaxy. This is the poetry of our times, a guide to living on the brink of the mystical and the mundane."

Appointed Poet Laureate by Governor Peter Shumlin under the auspices of the Vermont Arts Council, Sydney Lea is the author of eleven collections of poetry, including I Was Thinking of Beauty (2013); Growing Old in Poetry: Two Poets, Two Lives (with Delaware Poet Laureate Fleda Brown, 2013); Pursuit of a Wound (2000), a Pulitzer Prize finalist; To the Bone: New and Selected Poems (1996), a co-winner of the Poet's Prize; and Prayer for the Little City (1991). The American Book Review said of To the Bone, "It's past time that this poet's memorable best work should be known and praised and analyzed and loved as well as Frost's is."

Much of his work focuses on the mystery of the natural world and the physical details of life in a rural setting. He recently published the essay collection, A North Country Life: Tales of Woodsmen, Waters, and Wildlife (2013). The Wall Street Journal reviewer said, "Sydney Lea is a fisherman, a hunter, a philosopher, a trainer of bird dogs, an interpreter of the past and a collector of stories. This abundance of experience shows up to good effect.... He writes memorably. His stories ring true."

The founder and long-time editor of the influential literary magazine, The New England Review, Lea is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and Fulbright Foundations.

Lea is a dedicated environmental activist and serves currently as President of Downeast Lakes Land Trust, an organization dedicated to creating a million-acre wildlife preserve on the border between Maine and the province of New Brunswick. He also serves as President/Treasurer of the adult literacy organization, Central Vermont Adult Basic Education.

For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at



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