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Writers with ties to Brooklyn named NYS author and poet

Colson Whitehead, Alice Ostriker tapped by Gov. Cuomo

August 16, 2018 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Colson Whitehead and Alice Ostriker. Photos courtsy of Madeline Whitehead and Blue Flower Arts

Two renowned writers with Brooklyn ties have been appointed as the state’s official author and poet by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Colson Whitehead, who resided in Brooklyn for more than a dozen years, has been named New York’s 12th state author. Alicia Ostriker, born in Brooklyn, has been named New York’s 11th state poet.

Cuomo said the award recognizes their work “and the impact it has had on the people of New York and beyond.” During their two-year terms the state laureates promote and encourage fiction writing and poetry throughout New York by giving public readings and talks. The official inauguration ceremony will be held on Sept. 28 in Albany.

Colson Whitehead

Whitehead — author of six novels, winner of the National Book award, Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur “Genius Grant” — will receive the state’s Edith Wharton Citation of Merit for Fiction Writers. Past state authors include Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, E. L. Doctorow and Grace Paley.

Whitehead’s first novel, “The Intuitionist,” was called one of the “novels of the millennium.” His most recent work, “The Underground Railroad,” was No. 1 on The New York Times’ best-seller list and a selection of the Oprah Book Club.

An alternate history of pre-Civil War America, “The Intuitionist” chronicles a young slave’s adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom. It received the National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, Carnegie Medal for Fiction, Arthur C. Clarke Award and other awards, and was chosen by former President Barack Obama as one of five books on his summer vacation reading list in 2016.

Whitehead, who was born in NYC in 1969, moved to Brooklyn in the late ’90s. He has appeared at the Brooklyn Book Festival more than once, most recently in 2017.

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 In 2008, he mocked the rush of writers to Brooklyn in an essay in the Times, where he wrote, “You’re simply not a writer if you don’t live here … In fact, the physical act of moving your possessions from Manhattan to Brooklyn is now the equivalent of a two-year M.F.A. program.”

He added, “I dig it here and all, but it’s just a place. It does not have magical properties.”

He now resides in Manhattan, according to his publicist.

Alicia Ostriker

Ostriker, born in Brooklyn in 1937, will receive the state’s Walt Whitman Citation of Merit for Poets. Past winners include Jane Cooper, Robert Creeley and Stanely Kunitz.

As the author of 16 volumes of poetry, Ostriker has been called one of the most influential poets and poetry critics of her generation. Joyce Carol Oates said that her “iconoclastic expression, whether in prose or poetry, is essential to understanding our American selves.” As a writer of Jewish feminist poetry, she was called “America’s most fiercely honest poet,” by Progressive.

Ostriker’s newest collection, “Waiting for the Light,” described as “a reflection on life in New York City, America and the world,” is the winner of the National Jewish Book Award. She currently divides her time between New York City and Princeton, N.J., according to Poets.org.

In “After the Shipwreck,” Ostriker writes:

Someone raises a voice and says: Listen, we know there is land.

Somewhere, in some direction. We must know it.

And there is the land, looming, mountainous, massive

On the horizon: there in our minds. Then nothing

But the beauty of ocean …

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