William Kennedy

William Kennedy: Keys to the City

By Jesse Seidel, edited by Courtney Semoff

January 31st marked the ninetieth birthday of William Kennedy, as well as, the 35th anniversary of the Writer’s Institute which he founded. Professors, students, and avid fans of literature showed up in droves at Albany’s City Hall to celebrate.

The event was kicked off by a short speech by Mayor Kathy Sheehan who introduced William Kennedy: his history as an Irishman growing up in North Albany, leaving the area, and then coming back. She gave William Kennedy a pocket notebook to continue his journey of being a ‘Political Wizard’ a ‘Fearless Nobody’ or a ‘Daring Ethnic’ as these character tropes are prevalent in his books.

This was followed by several noted politicians including, Congresswoman Kathy Hochul, and Holly William – who was there in the stead of another congressman – they talked about how they met William Kennedy and the effect knowing him had on their lives: be it neighbors, colleagues, or just sharing in one another’s Irish heritage. It was also during this calvalcade of congressional compatriots that it was announced that the Writer’s Institute had raised $110,000, overshooting their 90,000 dollar goal – chosen as a nod to William Kennedy’s 90th birthday – by nearly 20%.

The gathered were reminded of William Kennedy’s humble beginnings as an intrepid reporter trying to root out corruption in Albany. It was a treat to share the experience of viewing a short video of various people wishing him a happy birthday and a long life including his grandkids, people mentored by him, people who benefitted from the Writer’s Institute and even well known actor, Mark Ruffalo.

HVWG at Kennedy 90th

Afterwards, the members of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild presented a reading of a truly witty excerpt from Kennedy’s book Roscoe and a performance by Albany Pro Musica which proved to be a haunting litany that left one wanting for more.

Finally, William Kennedy himself closed the ceremony. He talked about how, with him holding three keys to the city, Albany should probably change its locks by now. He then shared about how he grew up in Albany and why he started the Writer’s Institute. There was a great need for beginning, unknown writers to be able to ask the seasoned veterans of publishing the important questions such as, “What am I doing wrong?”, and be given the advice that is needed, even if it isn’t the advice that is wanted.

I enjoyed the event immensely, though I did think it was a bit cramped, but that just goes to show the fervor Albany has for one who has put the city on the map in the world of writing and the literary arts. William Kennedy spoke with a spark of wit that has remained with him for nearly a century, his story reminds authors that a slow start should push people to write more and hope for the best with their writing.