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William Kennedy

Photo: Anthony Salamone

The 10 best regional writers, poets and journalists of the past 30 years

 Writers (especially the critical and journalistic breed) are a notoriously picky lot. So, when it comes to evaluating 30 years worth of literary activity in Albany, consensus, one might expect, should be hard to come by. With results that span novelists and poets, reporters and columnists, and those who fall in the Metroland and Times Union camps, the field is duly broad. This is, no doubt, proof that the written word is alive and well in the Capital Region. However, when one considers the geographic (and therefore cultural) slant to this survey, one figure invariably casts the longest trench-coated shadow over the rest of the field. Simply put, William Kennedy is Albany and Albany is William Kennedy. In writing about our fair city, Kennedy has rendered both himself and the rusty, work-a-day character of this city iconographic. From his Pulitzer Prize-winning Ironweed to the founding of the New York State Writers Institute, Ken nedyís life and work is the only clear consensus that this list could manage.

Kennedy is not, however, the only Pulitzer Prize-winner on the list. Saratogian Steven Millhauser shares the distinction for his

í97 novel Martin Dressler, and has had similar success selling his work for film adaptation (The Illusionist). Russell Banks has his ties with Hollywood, as well, but is better known for his crushing novels. One might say that Banks is the Kennedy of the Adirondacks in his commitment to the lives of the regionís working class (Rule of the Bone, The Sweet Hereafter, Cloudsplitter).

Cultural critics James Howard Kunstler and Bill McKibbon tend, on the other hand, to live locally and write globally. While documenting our region is not their explicit concern, both have long been major voices of environmental and economic warning in the world of literature.

As this is a Metroland poll and all, one might expect a certain preference to emerge in the area of local newspaper writers, but one glance at the list should prove we are hat-doffing gentlefolk. Both Paul Grondahl and Dan Lynch made a strong impression on those polled and, along with Greg Haymes and Amy Biancolli, the Times Union more than proved its mettle. Metroland-ers Jeff Jones, Al Quaglieri, and John Rodat all ranked within a vote or two of their peers.

This whole list should be taken, however, with one giant scoop of salt, as the honorable mentions in this category are both honorable and certainly worth mentioning. Names like Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Russo, and Lydia Davis make us wonder if a top 20 list might have been more appropriate.

Survey respondents ranked up to 10 choices, and points were tallied as follows: 10 for 1st place, 9 for 2nd, and so on.

1. William Kennedy (87)

2. Paul Grondahl (33)

3. Steven Millhauser (26)

4. Dan Lynch (22)

5. Russell Banks (18)

6. Jeff Jones (17)

7. Tie: Greg Haymes (16); Al Quaglieri (16)

9. Tie: Amy Biancolli (15); Pierre Joris (15); James Howard Kunstler (15); Bill McKibben (15); John Rodat (15)

Honorable mention: Lydia Davis (14), Paul Rapp (14), Fred LeBrun (11), Rick Marshall (11), Richard Russo (11), Trevanian (11), Elizabeth Benjamin (10), Fred Dicker (10), R.M. Englehardt (10), Nick Flynn (10), Mike Goudreau (10), Nancy Guerin (10), Stephen Leon (10), Brendan Lyons (10), Harry Rosenfeld (10), Kurt Vonnegut (10)

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