The New York State Writers Institute has announced that Ayad Akhtar has been Named the New State Author, and Willie Perdomo the New State Poet 

Ayad Akhtar. Photo by Lia Chang

The New York State Writers Institute has announced that Ayad Akhtar has been named the new State Author, and Willie Perdomo the new State Poet.

Akhtar will receive the Edith Wharton Citation of Merit for Fiction and Perdomo will receive the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit for Poetry at a special ceremony to be held 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24, at the University at Albany’s Campus Center West Auditorium.

The NYS Author and NYS Poet ceremony serves as the official kickoff event for the 4th Annual Albany Book Festival hosted by the NYS Writers Institute — 10:30 a.m. through 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25. Both events are free are open to the public and will be held at UAlbany’s Uptown Campus, 1400 Washington Avenue.

“We offer our heartiest congratulations to Ayad Akhtar and Willie Perdomo,” said Writers Institute Director Paul Grondahl. “These two outstanding writers with New York roots are worthy recipients of these prestigious honors. We celebrate their singular literary excellence and how each embodies the vitality of literary art in New York State.”

The citations, established in 1985 by Governor Mario Cuomo and the State Legislature to promote fiction and poetry with the state, are awarded biennially under the aegis of the New York State Writers Institute. Awardees serve for two years in their honorary positions and each receives a $10,000 honorarium. The previous laureates were author Colson Whitehead and poet Alicia Ostriker.

“It is our honor to carry out this important responsibility of selecting the recipients with the help of a group of jurors,” Grondahl said. “No other college or university has this unique mission.”

Ayad Akhtar is an acclaimed novelist and playwright whose work explores the immigrant experience, Muslim American identity and the world of high finance. He is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Akhtar is the author of Homeland Elegies, which Dwight Garner of the New York Times called “A beautiful novel about an American son and his immigrant father that has echoes of The Great Gatsby and that circles, with pointed intellect, the possibilities and limitations of American life.”

Ayad Akhtar currently serves as president of PEN America, one of the leading defenders of free speech both here and abroad.

Willie Perdomo is a prize-winning poet and children’s book author who examines and celebrates the Nuyorican and Afro-Latino experience, primarily in his home neighborhood of Spanish Harlem.

His poetry collections include Where a Nickel Costs a Dime (1996), a finalist for the Poetry Society of America Norma Farber First Book Award; Smoking Lovely (2004, revised 2021), winner of the PEN/Open Book Award; The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon (2014), a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, and The Crazy Bunch (2019), which chronicles a weekend in the life of a group of East Harlem friends in the 1990s.

Willie Perdomo

Perdomo is also the co-editor of a recent anthology, Latínext (2020), a celebration of work by emerging Latinx poets who represent an array of nationalities, genders, sexualities, races, and writing styles.

His books for children include Clemente! (2016), about Baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, and Visiting Langston (2005), winner of the Coretta Scott King Honor, about a young girl’s visit to the home of Harlem poet Langston Hughes. A core faculty member at VONA/Voices of our Nation Writing Workshop, he teaches at Phillips Exeter Academy.

University events will comply with all COVID-19 protocols and follow the guidance of health officials. Up-to-date information will be posted at albanybookfestival.com.

Also at Friday’s event, Daniel Sherrell, will be recognized as the winner of the inaugural Bruce Piasecki and Andrea Masters Award on Business and Society Writing.

The State Author award is named for Edith Wharton (1862-1937), widely regarded as one of America’s great novelists. Born in New York City into wealth and social status, she exposed in her darkly elegant fiction the hypocrisies and pressures of New York’s high society, particularly through her examination of the role and conditions of women. Many of Wharton’s works, like The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, and The Age of Innocence, continue to exert a powerful hold on the popular imagination. In a phrase she herself used to describe successful short fiction, her prose is “a shaft driven straight into the heart of experience.”

The State Poet award is named for Walt Whitman (1819-1892), the renowned “poet of democracy” born in Huntington, Long Island. More than any American poet of his age, Whitman has had the greatest and most long-lasting influence on American poetry. His masterwork, Leaves of Grass, heralded a new age of innovation in poetry with its absence of rhyme and standard meter and through its abundance of oratorical rhythms. A favorite poet of liberal political movements in 19th century Europe, Whitman continues to influence poets around the world.

“New York was home to two towering literary figures who are namesakes of these awards: the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit for Poetry and the Edith Wharton Citation of Merit for Fiction,” Grondahl said. “Akhtar and Perdomo join an illustrious group of past recipients, who comprise a pantheon of diverse and exemplary voices. Their writing powerfully depicts the human experience and what it means to be a New Yorker, an American and a citizen of the world.”

Past recipients

NYS Author: State Poet:

Colson Whitehead 2018-2021 Alicia Ostriker 2018-2021

Edmund White 2016-2018 Yusef Komunyakaa 2016-2018

Alison Lurie 2012-2014 Marie Howe 2012-2014

Mary Gordon 2008-2010 Jean Valentine 2008-2010

Russell Banks 2004-2006 Billy Collins 2004-2006

Kurt Vonnegut 2001-2003 John Ashbery 2001-2003

James Salter 1998-2000 Sharon Olds 1998-2000

Peter Matthiessen 1995-1997 Jane Cooper 1995-1997

William Gaddis 1993-1995 Richard Howard 1993-1995

Norman Mailer 1991-1993 Audre Lorde 1991-1993

E. L. Doctorow 1989-1991 Robert Creeley 1989-1991

Grace Paley 1986-1988 Stanley Kunitz 1986-1988

The New York State Writers Institute gratefully acknowledges Governor Kathy Hochul and the Executive Chamber staff for their assistance with the New York State Author and Poet Awards.

With special thanks to the University at Albany Office of the President and Office of the Provost, and our Albany Book Festival premier sponsor, Bruce Piasecki & The Creative Force Fund.

About the Albany Book Festival

The fourth annual event, on Saturday, Sept. 25, at the University at Albany, will be held in-person for the first time since 2019. Events will begin at 10:30 a.m. and conclude at 5 p.m. All events are free and open to the public. More information at www.albanybookfestival.com.

The list of Albany Book Festival guests includes (subject to change):

  • Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Friday Black: Stories),

  • Ayad Akhtar (Homeland Elegies),

  • Robert Boyers (The Tyranny of Virtue: Identity, The Academy, and the Hunt for Political Heresies),

  • Elizabeth Brundage (The Vanishing Point),

  • Mary Gaitskill (This is Pleasure),

  • Garth Greenwell (Cleanness),

  • Farah Jasmine Griffin (Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature),

  • Janell Hobson (When God Lost Her Tongue: Historical Consciousness and the Black Feminist Imagination),

  • Quiara Alegría Hudes (My Broken Language: A Memoir, co-wrote the Tony Award-winning stage musical “In the Heights” with Lin-Manuel Miranda.),

  • Amitava Kumar (A Time Outside This Time),

  • Reif Larsen (Uma Wimple Charts her House),

  • Emily Layden (All Girls),

  • Ed Lin (David Tung Can’t Have a Girlfriend Until He Gets Into an Ivy League College),

  • George Makari (Of Fear and Strangers: A History of Xenophobia),

  • Bethany C. Morrow (So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix),

  • Peter Osnos (An Especially Good View: Watching History Happen),

  • Jay Parini (Borges and Me: An Encounter),

  • Willie Perdomo (The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon)

  • David Pietrusza (Too Long Ago: A Childhood Memoir. A Vanished World.),

  • Nathaniel Philbrick (Travels with George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy),

  • David Rohde (In Deep: The FBI, the CIA, and the Truth about America’s “Deep State”),

  • Ed Schwarzschild (In Security),

  • Dana Spiotta (Wayward),

  • Setsuko Winchester (www.yellowbowlproject.com) and

  • Simon Winchester (LAND: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World).

The book festival will also include a Local Authors Marketplace, readings by young local writers published in Skribblers magazine; and readings from banned books to help kick off Banned Books Week beginning September 26 with the theme, “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.” The festival’s children’s programming is organized by Skribblers and the Albany Public Library.

More information at albanybookfestival.com.

Lia Chang

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers, musicians and corporations. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman. She stars in and served as Executive Producer for the short independent films Hide and Seek, Balancing Act, Rom-Com Gone Wrong, Belongingness and When the World was Young (2021 DisOrient Film Audience Choice Award for Best Short Narrative). She is also the Executive Producer for The Cactus, The Language Lesson, The Writer and Cream and 2 Shugahs.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2021 Lia Chang Multimedia, unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

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