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Celebrating the word: (l-r) Gov. Spitzer, Gordon, Valentine and Wall Spitzer at the Capitol.

PHOTO: Shannon DeCelle

Literary New York


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.”

“At 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 College.

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 for publication.

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.

—Heather Lumb

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