Celebrating the word: (l-r) Gov. Spitzer,
Gordon, Valentine and Wall Spitzer at the Capitol.
PHOTO: Shannon DeCelle
The Blue Room, hidden in the maze of the Capitol Building,
is indeed blue, as shades of navy and sapphire color the wall
drapes and the carpet. And the color gave an appropriate feeling
of serenity and formality, as the New York State poet and
author laureateships were awarded to new state author Mary
Gordon and state poet Jean Valentine on March 3.
William Kennedy, executive director of the New York State
Writers Institute, introduced Mary Gordon as “a prolific writer
who will not only say anything, she will say it in multiple
ways. . . including personal conversation, so be careful what
you ask her.” Gordon is most admired for her quick wit, and
the ability to connect with the reader through stark emotions.
She is a proud native of New York, and writes often about
it. She has a handful of honorary doctorates, and has received
the Guggenheim Fellowship and the Kafka Prize, among others.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer presented the official proclamation, prepared
by the Writers Institute and the New York State Proclamations
Office (bet you didn’t know there was one of those), to Gordon
after sharing his admiration for her. “I think you capture
all of New York.”
every level, you are what New York embodies,” he added, noting
that culture and intellectualism are key features both in
her work and of the state itself.
Gordon accepted the award with a smile, and named the four
foundations of her career that brought her the award: “The
state of New York, Edith Wharton, Grace Paley [the first recipient
of the award], and Jean Valentine brought me here,” she explained,
revealing how Valentine had actually taught her at Barnard
Gordon said, “I hope to go on being a New York writer, until
they carry me out on a slab.”
Jean Valentine received the poet laureateship from the director
of the New York State Writers Institute, Donald Faulkner,
and first lady Silda Wall Spitzer.
Mrs. Spitzer spoke of the importance of preserving poetry,
and how Valentine captures the written word with “works that
inspire, which we can all relate to.”
With a soft, soothing voice, Valentine accepted the honor
and acknowledged Gordon as a former student: “It is often
the student who is doing the teaching, as is apparent through
Mary Gordon.” She then went on to explain the importance of
the state in her work adding that she’s “been everywhere,
but everywhere is not New York, and I’m grateful for [New
York} every day.”
The new state poet has 11 volumes of published poetry, and
another on the way. Other awards she has received include
the Shelley Memorial Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the
Sara Teasdale Award.
The Writers Institute’s Faulkner said that the connection
between the two was not known until after Gordon and Valentine
were named the laureates: “It’s poetic, how the two intersected.”
Not only did Valentine teach her at Barnard, but Gordon said
it was Valentine who first suggested she submit her fiction
The new state author and poet will serve until 2010. During
that time, both will travel throughout the state promoting
fiction and poetry through public readings and discussions.