Ghosts, time capsules and literature: A history of the Virginia G. Piper Writer's Center

Palm Walk and Old Main are two of the most popular points of interest on campus. However, not many have noticed the brick cottage house from 1907 between the two; Virginia G. Piper Writer's House. It is a gem on campus with more than fiction stories captured within its walls. 

The center, known as the President's Cottage, opened up its doors to discuss the relatively unknown history and programs it offers, even though it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Event coordinator Meredith Martinez explained that the writing center is more than just a haven to the feral cats that live around the house. She revealed a hidden gem that not many students know about: its time capsule. 

"Two things that are fun about the property around the Piper house," Martinez said. "One is that we are a feeding center for cats on campus. The second is a time capsule that we won't open for another 90 years. It contains different materials, books, things that author's have wanted to include in there that was created around the timing of the renovation, so around 2007. Every time we have a distinct author, we ask for their autograph so we can print it on a brick."

The name of the center is in honor of Virginia Galvin Piper, who donated millions to the center because she really cared about creative writing, Martinez said. Its mission is to serve both the local and global writing communities through literary programs and resources. Before it was officially a writing center, it used to house the University's Archives.

As Halloween approaches, the writing center also has its own ghost story. Grady Gammage was the last president who lived in the house, and his wife Dixie passed away in 1948 in the house from an illness. The ghost has been spotted wearing a big hat and a white night gown. She loved the stained glass window that can be seen from the front of the house which was not there for a while and once it was reinstalled her ghost ceased to return. 

When the center invites an author or writer to host a gathering at the center or for the purpose of its annual conference, the Virginia G. Piper Writer's House creates a committee that works together to create a diverse set of people both women and men of a variety of ethnical backgrounds. Culturally distinctive authors are looked at often and brought to the center. 

"We are really committed to getting good literature," Martinez said. "If people want to come and take a look at the house they can walk in or contact us to talk about our house and programming."

The events hosted in the house are free to the public. There are some that cost money like other programs with authors and professors who run workshops, discussions and classes. However, groups such as the ASU book club use the house to host events. 

Coordinator Mollie Connelly said that the creative writing center encourages students to visit it and sign up for the mailing list, especially with the conference slowly approaching. 

"There are so many free amazing events," Connelly said. "Because of the endowment from (Piper), we are able to get really really amazing authors here that other programs may not be able to afford. We get to share that opportunity for free with students and that's what we are all about. We have such a broad range of authors who visit. Anyone who is interested in any subjects are welcome here."

An upcoming visitor is Zadie Smith, an award winning author. Smith has been recognized for her vibrant insights into contemporary multicultural life from the start. She received numerous awards for her first novel "White Teeth" including the Commonwealth Writers Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Guardian’s First Book Award.

Astronomy graduate student Karen Olsen came from Denmark to study at ASU. Although she earned her Ph.D in May, she came to ASU to decide if she really does like her degree.

"Yeah, if there was more information I would go," Olsen said. "I just started here a month ago so it's really good to hear what's going on in the other buildings."

The writing center's Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writing Conference will celebrate its 13th year as a conference from Feb. 18 - 20, 2016. It gathers writers, scholars and lovers of literature for three days. The center aims to give everyone practical information to all levels of writers to create a supportive environment to the community. 

Related Links:

ASU receives $10 million grant from charitable trust

Sparky's Quill: Virginia G. Piper Writers House


Reach the reporter at rsantist@asu.edu or follow @ryanerica18 on Twitter.

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