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Emily Pawlak has enjoyed a diverse career encompassing service in the publishing, financial and education fields.  In her free time, she strives to live her life guided by the mantra ‘if you wake up, get up.  If you get up, do something’. She enjoys theater, live music, reading, film, and traveling with the most cherished people in her life…and is hopeful her interest in the Writers Institute may lead to writing as a new endeavor.

Emily Pawlak

A journey back to books

By Emily Pawlak

With many innovative devices by which to enjoy reading in today’s highly stimulated world (iPads, mobile phones, E-readers), it surprised me to ultimately realize I was reading less.

Simply put, there is no substitute for the feel of a book in your hands and reading the printed page. So when I learned the New York State Writers Institute would be hosting a Book Festival – their second, my first – it seemed the perfect opportunity to lead me back to a pastime I enjoyed several years before.  

What an intriguing proposition - a day celebrating writers, books galore, a chance to hear life perspectives through writers’ eyes, or even hone in on one’s desire to possibly be published one day.

Making my way to the Book Festival, I caught myself pondering how aptly the stage was set for a day devoted to books and writing; a spectrum of gray clouds threatening to unleash soaking rain upon all below at any given moment; wind gusts that made you long for a mug of your favorite piping hot beverage, wrapped in that one special throw.  


I had long awaited this festival, for it was at the Writers Institute’s screening of "Won’t You Be My Neighbor" that I first learned of this event and marked my calendar when I got home that evening.

Image from the 2019 Albany Book Festival at UAlbany

Festival-goers browsing books at the Albany Book Festival held September 14, 2019, at the University at Albany.

Will Schwalbe

Will Schwabe speaking at the Albany Book Festival

Joyce Carol Oate and Jonathan Santlofer

Joyce Carol Oates in conversation at the Albany Book Festival

Attending the book festival was not without trepidation; it was hard not to notice the day’s program was sprinkled with discussion on life-altering events, loss and grief. Me and my companion for the day, Mom, were not far removed from the loss of my father, her husband. I questioned how we might respond listening to the authors we were so excited to see and hear speak on topics we frequently don’t engage in discussions about.  Would it rise to the surface our own pain? Would emotions be on display in front of an audience? Or, might we find a lightness, solace even, in hearing someone outside our inner circle sharing their experience after loss of a loved one.   

Much to my surprise the first two speakers, Dani Shapiro and Will Schwalbe, set the day on a course we could not wait to repeat. I was captivated as Shapiro spoke her first words that morning. How I wished I could have stayed planted in my chair under the big white tent listening to her share the stories of her life. Dabbed with humor interjected by her friend, Schwalbe, the two writers shared their perspectives and insights on the losses they faced, living through that loss, and the importance writing played in healing… in remembering… in continuing to live.   


I immediately purchased Dani’s book, Inheritance, and had the honor of a brief conversation with her as she signed it. I could not help but think if this was my first session of the festival, what would the rest of the day hold.  Disappoint it did not. 

My heart ached listening to Allison Pataki speak of her 30-year old husband’s stroke and the impending challenges he AND she faced when a loved one is stricken with TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury).  Reading her book, Beauty in Broken Places, took just four days. What I found enlightening was Pataki's realization that a point had arrived during her time as caretaker where she needed help… and she asked for it.

Knowing little about romance novelist Sylvia Day, it did not take long to realize not only the talented writer that was before us, but a woman well informed on her craft and the inner workings of her industry.  We closed out our day hearing highly accomplished Joyce Carol Oates speak. Her humility was palpable as she shared her astonishment to this day at the number of published books in her repertoire.


As we left that day, my mom and I seemed lighter in step, sharing our perspectives on our day and agreeing on how amazing an experience it had been. Quite the opposite of the apprehension I had entertained at the day’s onset.  I am grateful to the NYS Writers Institute for bringing me back to my long lost friend…reading. 

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