On August 15, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced Colson Whitehead has been named New York’s 12th State Author and Alicia Ostriker has been named New York’s 11th State Poet. Whitehead, novelist, journalist, memoirist, and nonfiction writer will receive the New York State Edith Wharton Citation of Merit for Fiction Writers; and poet Ostriker will receive the New York State Walt Whitman Citation of Merit for Poets.
“New York has long been an epicenter for arts and culture, and this award celebrates some of the state’s most talented and influential writers in their respective fields,” Governor Cuomo said. “I’m proud to name renowned writer Colson Whitehead and acclaimed poet Alicia Ostriker for the prestigious positions of State Author and State Poet, recognizing their collective body of work and the impact it has had on the people of New York and beyond.”
The official inauguration ceremony for Whitehead and Ostriker will be held on Friday, September 28, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. in the Campus Center on the University at Albany Uptown Campus, 1400 Washington Avenue. Free parking will be available in the Dutch Quad University lot. The event, which will include readings by the two laureates, is free and open to the public.
Colson Whitehead succeeds Edmund White as NYS Author and joins a group of eminent authors who have served in the position, including Allison Lurie, Mary Gordon, Russell Banks, Kurt Vonnegut, James Salter, Peter Matthiessen, William Gaddis, Norman Mailer, E. L. Doctorow, and Grace Paley.
Whitehead, the author of six novels, is celebrated for work that wrestles in heroic fashion with the meaning of American mythology, history and racial identity. Whitehead’s most recent novel is The Underground Railroad (2017), an imaginative “alternate history” of pre-Civil War America, with its network of safe houses and secret routes for escaped slaves. A #1 New York Times Bestseller and a selection of the Oprah Book Club, the novel received the National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, Carnegie Medal for Fiction, Arthur C. Clarke Award, Hurston/Wright Fiction Award, and Heartland Prize.
Alicia Suskin Ostriker succeeds Yusef Komunyakaa as NYS Poet and joins a long line of distinguished poets who have served in the position, including Marie Howe, Jean Valentine, Billy Collins, John Ashbery, Sharon Olds, Jane Cooper, Richard Howard, Audre Lorde, Robert Creeley, and Stanely Kunitz.
Ostriker, the author of sixteen volumes of poetry, is one of the most acclaimed poets, as well as one of the most influential poetry critics of her generation. Joyce Carol Oates asserts that her “iconoclastic expression, whether in prose or poetry, is essential to understanding our American selves.” Ostriker’s work explores motherhood, womanhood, social justice, Jewish identity and— in the words of poet Joan Larkin— “takes on nothing less than what it feels like to be alive.”
Her newest collection is Waiting for the Light (2017), winner of the National Jewish Book Award, and a current reflection on life in New York City, America and the world. Ostriker was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1937. She received a BA from Brandeis University in 1959 and an MA and PhD in literature, in 1961 and 1964 respectively, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her doctoral dissertation became her first published book, Vision and Verse in William Blake (University of Wisconsin Press). Later, she edited and annotated William Blake’s The Complete Poems for Penguin Classics.
Ostriker has received awards and fellowships from the NEA, the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, the Poetry Society of America, and the San Francisco State Poetry Center, among others. She is professor emerita of English at Rutgers University, and a faculty member of the Drew University’s low-residency poetry MFA program. She divides her time between New York City and Princeton, New Jersey.