The New York State Writers Institute has received two large gifts expected to secure its future.
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist William Kennedy founded the Writers Institute with money from his MacArthur "genius" grant in 1983. Now, two University at Albany grads have come through with funding that will enable the Writers Institute to grow and add more events to its calendar.
Class of '76 grad Gregory Maguire, who wrote "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West," put up $500,000 to establish The Maguire Family Endowment. And 1992 graduate Marc Guggenheim, co-creator of the TV series "Arrow," is pledging $100,000 to support the NYSWI Classic Film Series Endowment.
Institute Director Paul Grondahl: "We are extremely excited and thrilled by these two major gifts to the New York State Writers Institute from two University at Albany alumni and two brilliant creative artists, Gregory Maguire and Marc Guggenheim. These gifts will help sustain the Writers Institute for generations to come. They're endowment gifts and will be able to generate income from these investments and we will continue to keep our world class literary and film programming free and open to the public."
The Writers Institute is a local cultural force, hosting talks with authors, journalists, filmmakers and guests like Sean Penn and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. "This is very much something that's deeply embedded in the culture and the fabric of Albany and the Capital Region, and we've been able to grow these programs. I'm very honored to be the director for the last year and a half or so. We're all committed to taking the Writers Institute to the next level and these gifts will help us do that."
Suzanne Lance, Associate Director of the Writers Institute, is credited by colleagues as having been the backbone of the operation for 29 years. She is retiring at the end of this year and reveals some rocky times the Institute endured in the mid-2000s. "We took, like, you know 20 or 24 percent budget cuts in like three or four successive years, so it did get a little hard to keep the quality of our programming up and we had to get really creative with how we invited people and trying to tap into their book publishing tours so that we could get people maybe for just travel and lodging. So we did have 'the dark years' we call them where funding was really tight. We sometimes, I think, wonder as we're planning our programs if anybody out there is paying attention. And now we know that at least there are two people who people who value what the Institute is doing and want us to continue doing it."
Lance says the institute has always sought out collaborations and opportunities to attract writers, which often resulted in landmark presentations. "We've had like eight Nobel Prize winners and endless Pulitzer Prize-winners. Norman Mailer might be a standout for people. Kurt Vonnegut. These were standing-room-only turn away crowds that we had. Frank McCourt was another one."
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