Governor Cuomo and NYS Writers Institute announce new State Author and State Poet Awardees

Edmund White, new State Author, and Yusef Komunyakaa, new State Poet

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Yusef Komunyakaa Photo credit: Tom Wallace

ALBANY, NY (01/08/2016)(readMedia)-- Edmund White has been named New York's 11th State Author, and Yusef Komunyakaa has been named New York's 11th State Poet, Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced.

White, novelist, short story writer, memoirist, and nonfiction writer will receive the New York State Edith Wharton Citation of Merit for Fiction Writers; and poet Yusef Komunyakaa will receive the New York State Walt Whitman Citation of Merit for Poets.

In announcing the awards Governor Cuomo said: "I'm proud to name renowned writer Edmund White and acclaimed poet Yusef Komunyakaa for the prestigious positions of State Author and Poet. Their collective body of work has had a tremendous impact on the people of New York, those across the country and many around the world. I look forward to their literature being shared and enjoyed for generations to come."

William Kennedy, Executive Director of the NYS Writers Institute, and ex-officio chair of the review committee for the Edith Wharton Citation of Merit for Fiction Writers said: "Edmund White is a gifted writer whose body of work exists on a high literary plane. He has written in several genres – journalism, the essay, criticism, biography, and especially fiction, almost totally focused on gay consciousness and culture. The scope of his work, his insights into the era in which he lived and into his own life, his candor and courage, his keen intelligence, and the marvelous wit of his language, have made him an eminent and inspirational figure in American literature."

Donald Faulkner, Director of the NYS Writers Institute, and ex-officio chair of the review committee for the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit for Poets, said about Komunyakaa: "Seldom, if ever, have I found an American poet with such an amazing trajectory of talent and sense of subject regarding culture and morality: from Viet Nam to jazz, from Black experience to surreal lyricism. He is surely among our very best."

The official inauguration ceremony for White and Komunyakaa will be held on Thursday, February 11, 2016 at 8 p.m. in Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, on the University at Albany Downtown Campus. The event, which will include readings by the two laureates, is free and open to the public.

In addition to appointing the State Author and Poet, Governor Cuomo also named Joseph Tusiani Poet Emeritus in recognition of his contributions to the international literary community. The Poet Emeritus of the State of New York is a separate and distinct honor from the New York State Author and Poet. Governor Cuomo has bestowed this one-time award on Tusiani in recognition of his achievements in American and Italian literature.


On receiving the news of his appointment as State Poet, Yusef Komunyakaa said, "I am honored to serve as state poet of New York. I embrace this historical support of artists and I shall endeavor to cultivate this atmosphere where poetry and the lives of working people intersect."

Yusef Komunyakaa succeeds Marie Howe as NYS Poet and joins a long line of distinguished poets who have served in the position, including Jean Valentine, Billy Collins, John Ashbery, Sharon Olds, Jane Cooper, Richard Howard, Audre Lorde, Robert Creeley, and Stanely Kunitz.

Komunyakaa is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, including Dien Cai Dau (1988), a modern classic of war poetry, and Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems (1993), for which he received both the Pulitzer Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. He received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for "extraordinary lifetime accomplishments" from The Poetry Foundation in 2001 and the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets in 2011. His other works include Thieves of Paradise (1998), Talking Dirty to the Gods (2000), and The Chameleon Couch (2011), all of them finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and The Emperor of Water Clocks (2015). The Washington Post Book World has described Komunyakaa as "a poet of the human heart, in all its joys and horrors," and said, "He enlarges our idea of what poetry is...."

Komunyakaa was born and raised in Bogalusa, Louisiana. He served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and earned a Bronze Star for his work as editor and correspondent for the military newspaper Southern Cross. He received a B.A. from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs in 1975, an M.A. from Colorado State University in 1978, and a M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of California, Irvine in 1980. A resident of New York City since 2000, Komunyakaa is a faculty member and Honorary Director of Cave Canem, America's leading Black poetry society, committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets. He has taught at many universities including the University of New Orleans, Indiana University, and Princeton University, and is currently the Distinguished Senior Poet in the Creative Writing Program at New York University.

Of his work, Marie Howe, the outgoing New York State Poet wrote: "Komunyakaa is a citizen of the world who lives in New York City. He sings of tenderness and rage, of war and domestic breakdown, of poppies and barbed wire--in language that is music in the mouth and on the page. He refuses easy solutions, but his poetry resuscitates. Hearing Komunyakaa, reading Komunyakaa we are forced awake."

The advisory panel that recommended Komunyakaa as State Poet included poet Nick Flynn, poet Brenda Hillman, outgoing State Poet Marie Howe, and poet and Writers Institute Director, Donald Faulkner.

For more information on Yusef Komunyakaa, visit his Poetry Foundation page at

EDMUND WHITE, New York State Author

On receiving news of his appointment as State Author, Edmund White wrote, "I've lived most of my life in New York and have written about it extensively. It's astonishing to be recognized by my home and my subject."

Edmund White succeeds Alison Lurie as NYS Author and joins a group of eminent authors who have served in the position, including Mary Gordon, Russell Banks, Kurt Vonnegut, James Salter, Peter Matthiessen, William Gaddis, Norman Mailer, E. L. Doctorow, and Grace Paley.

Edmund White is the author of more than two dozen works of fiction, memoir, and criticism. As a fiction writer, White is perhaps best known for his trilogy of autobiographical novels: A Boy's Own Story (1982), The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988), and The Farewell Symphony (1997). He is also the author of works including The Married Man (2000), a novel about love in the AIDS era, Hotel de Dream: A New York Novel (2007), which imagines the final days of the poet and novelist Stephen Crane, and Jack Holmes and His Friend (2013), which charts the unconventional relationship between two men, one gay, one straight, from their arrival in New York in the 1950s through the first stirrings of gay liberation. Dave Eggers has labeled White "one of the three or four most virtuosic living writers of sentences in the English language," while John Irving has called him "one of the best writers of my generation...the contemporary American writer I reread more than any other, and the one whose next book I look forward to reading most."

Edmund White was born in 1940 in Cincinnati, Ohio, and grew up in both Cincinnati and Chicago. He attended Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, as a child and graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Chinese in 1962. Among his many awards, White is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Award for Literature from the National Academy of Arts and Letters, and was made Chevalier (and later Officier) de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 1993. In addition to being a member of the Violet Quill, an influential literary circle of post-Stonewall New York writers, White was a co-founder of the Gay Men's Health Crisis (now GMHC), the world's first provider of HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and advocacy, established in New York City in January 1982, and was the inaugural recipient of the Bill Whitehead Award, honoring lifetime achievement by writers within the LGBT community, in 1989. A member of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, White lives in New York City and has been a Professor of Creative Writing at Princeton University since 1998.

The advisory panel that recommended White as state author included the outgoing laureate, novelist Alison Lurie, fiction writers Ann Beattie, Allan Gurganus, and George Saunders, and novelist and Executive Director of the New York State Writers Institute, William Kennedy.

Of his work, jury member Ann Beattie said, "Throughout his distinguished career, Edmund White has kept a clear eye not only on the culture, but on himself--as a private citizen and as an artist whose work often analyzes our society, and the times in which he lives.... As a journalist, critic, fiction writer, and professor, Edmund White has offered us an astonishing and – more amazing yet – consistently focused intelligence.... We have been the lucky recipients of the vision this dedicated writer brings: writing that challenges and unites people, as it validates the power of the written word."

For more information on Edmund White, visit

Joseph Tusiani, Poet Emeritus

Joseph Tusiani is an accomplished poet and author. Born and raised in in San Marco, Lamis in 1924, he graduated with a doctorate in English Literature from the University of Naples. In 1948 he came to the U.S. and began his academic career.

Tusiani has written several poetry collections, including Melos Cardis (1955), Rosa Rusarum (1984), In Exilio Rerum (1985) in Latin; Lo Speco Celeste (1956) and Odi Sacre (1958) in Italian; and Rind and All (1962), The Fifth Season (1963) and Genta Mia and other poems in English.

Tusiani is well known for his translations including Dante's Inferno: As told for young people (1965), The Complete Poems of Michael Angelo (1969), Gerusalemme Liberata (1970), Il Mondo Creato (1982) and more. He has also written a novel, Envoy from Heaven (1965), and an autobiography, La Parola Difficile (1988). He began his teaching career at the College of Mount Saint Vincent and later joined the City University of New York and Fordham University. Tusiani is widely recognized for his impact on Italian, English, and Latin poetry. He is 92 and lives in New York City.

The New York State Writers Institute

The New York State Writers Institute of the State University of New York, located at the University at Albany, was mandated as a permanent state-sponsored organization through legislation signed into law in 1984. The Writers Institute provides a milieu for writers, both renowned and aspiring, from all over the world to come together for the purpose of instruction and creative exchange.

In 1985 the governor and state legislature empowered the Institute to award the Edith Wharton Citation of Merit for Fiction Writers (State Author) and the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit for Poets (State Poet) to authors whose career achievements make them deserving of New York State's highest literary honors.

Upon the recommendation of two advisory panels of distinguished writers convened under the aegis of the Writers Institute, the Governor awards the citations every two years to one fiction writer and one poet of distinction. During their two-year terms the state laureates promote and encourage fiction writing and poetry throughout New York by giving public readings and talks within the state.

NYS Poets and their terms of service are listed below.

Marie Howe, 2012-2014

Jean Valentine, 2008-2010

Billy Collins, 2004-2006

John Ashbery, 2001-2003

Sharon Olds, 1998-2000

Jane Cooper, 1995-1997

Richard Howard, 1993-1995

Audre Lorde, 1991-1993

Robert Creeley, 1989-1991

Stanely Kunitz, 1986-1988

NYS Authors and their terms of service are listed below.

Alison Lurie, 2012-2014

Mary Gordon, 2008-2010

Russell Banks, 2004-2006

Kurt Vonnegut, 2001-2003

James Salter, 1998-2000

Peter Matthiessen, 1995-1997

William Gaddis, 1993-1995

Norman Mailer, 1991-1993

E. L. Doctorow, 1989-1991

Grace Paley, 1986-1988

More information on the NYS Poet and Author and the NYS Writers Institute can be found at