Following in the footsteps of Writers Institute (NYSWI) founder and Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Kennedy must have been a bit intimidating, but Paul Grondahl has quickly made his mark as director since taking the position in 2017.

This year Grondahl’s vision and its impact on the community became crystal clear. NYSWI continues its long tradition of bringing in celebrated writers to speak at SUNY Albany, but now those writers have more to say to the diverse Capital Region community. And at Grondhal’s encouragement, these writers and creatives have gone into the community to lend their expertise.

Photo by Richard Lovrich

When celebrated rapper and author Rakim (William Michael Griffin Jr.) came to town in October, he visited a library in the South End and was greeted by throngs of fans. He listened to songs, read his lyrics and posed for pictures. Books were subsidized for people who could not afford a copy of Rakim’s “Sweat The Technique: Revelations On

Creativity From The Lyrical Genius” (HarperCollins, 2019). At $10, books moved quickly organizers soon were handing out cards for Rakim to sign. 

“He was excited to give everyone his time,” Grondahl says. “And when we wanted to get him uptown to the event he said he wanted to make sure he saw everyone before he left.” The successful event shows “it doesn’t all have to be things for the literary crowd or writers with write-ups in The Paris Review.” 

Photo by Richard Lovrich

In 2018, the institute brought Pulitzer-winning poet Tyehimba Jess to Coxsackie Correctional Facility to speak to inmates about taking advantage of educational opportunities and read poetry. He returned to campus that night to give a seminar. 

In 2018 Grondahl successfully launched a book festival that attracts authors from around the world. On March 28, the NYSWI will launch a film festival.

Grondahl is hesitant to take credit for the institute’s vibrancy. He notes that partnerships with the University Art Museum on The Creative Lifeseries and local institutions like the Albany Public Library help the program to flourish. “One of the things I wanted to do when I came here was to work together,” he says, “to throw the windows and doors open to everyone. We need each other.”