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New York Writers Institute heads in a new digital direction

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By Lindsey Riback


As he celebrates his 88th birthday, William Kennedy reveals a new direction for the New York State Writers Institute here at the University of Albany.

To retain and expand interest in the institute from not only the UAlbany community, but also the general public and the accomplished writers who visit the institute, the NYS Writers Institute is looking to digitize their already established Visiting Writers Series. By participating in this series, the writers discuss their work and provide their audience with an excerpt from their latest novel.

“This is a really exciting time for the institute,” Kennedy said. “So many new things are going on, it’s kind of a renaissance.”

Kennedy, the founder and executive director of the Writers Institute, believes that making these discussions available to the general public on its YouTube page, https://www.youtube.com/user/NYSWritersInstitute, will allow the institute’s online site to become more like a magazine. Visitors to the site will be able to not only access the actual discussion showcasing the writer, but additional interviews or work done by the author as well. 

“The subject matter will dictate how we do it,” said Kennedy. The institute will either post a Q&A, an interview or the author’s reading of his or her own work.

The executive director explained that the institute has posted past discussions on its YouTube channel which have close to half a million views, but he hopes that increasing the amount of videos and the subject matter in them will increase the views tenfold.

According to their website, the Writers Institute, which began in 1984, has since welcomed over a thousand accomplished writers, performers and filmmakers, including Nobel Award and Pulitzer Prize winners.

Due to university wide budget cuts, UAlbany had to cut its funding to the institute in 2008, but this did not hinder its ability to host accomplished writers. Now instead of the university paying writers to visit, their publishers tend to bear the costs.

“Publishers have decided we are a very good stop on a book tour for a number of writers and they pay for their visits,” Kennedy said.

Co-sponsorships have also made it relatively easy for the university to host the writer, explained Kennedy. By working with other groups within the university, like the business and communications departments, the institute is able to bring in writers or scholars in specific disciplines which may appeal to a wider audience.

Kennedy’s influence on the institute is not only from a founder’s position, but as a participant as well. The Albany native is an accomplished writer who has published over 10 novels, as well as two screenplays and two theater plays.

He is currently working on a few new books, one of which he explained will move through several different eras that are significant in U.S. history.

“It’s a very unusual book for me to be writing, but it sounds like it’s going to be fun for me,” he said.

Over the years, Kennedy has used his hometown and the history behind it as a setting for many of his works. On Sunday, March 6 at 2 p.m., Kennedy will be presenting a slideshow of various photographs of Albany that he has accumulated over the past 50 years at the Albany Institute of History and Art. At this event he will discuss how he has used these photographs to inspire his fictional works.

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