Virginia G. Piper Writing House caters to students, community

The historical landmark is a haven for creative writers

Situated a mere walking distance from the Old Main building near Tyler Mall, the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing is a unique fixture on the Tempe campus and is a destination for creative writers — both students and the public. 

As one of the oldest buildings on campus, the former President’s Cottage holds a long history under its roof. Built in 1907, the home’s original purpose was to house the presidents of ASU, including Grady Gammage — a task that lasted until 1959. 

Afterwards, the University’s alumni association held its offices in the building from 1967 to 1972. It was then used as the home of the school’s archives until 1995. Author  Robert Frost would call it home during his visits to President Gammage during his term.

The two-story house produces creative writing workshops for English students and other majors.

The home’s namesake, Virginia G. Piper, was a philanthropist whose charities funded numerous hospitals and medical universities, as well as local Girl Scout troops in the Phoenix area.

English major Sawyer Elms works as an intern in the Piper house.

“We’re the benefactors of the Piper trust, but with the specific goal to enrich the community with art, specifically with creative writing," he said. "With that trust, we try to bring the highest quality authors and writers that we can here so we can share that with the public and with ASU."

Elms said that while the focus of the house has been for creative writing students to visit, the organization is working on opening the location on a broader scale.

“In the past it’s been more exclusive,” he said. “A lot of masters in fine arts for creative writing have access to this building. Just recently have they (the trust) been doing more events to get anybody to come in and enjoy this really cool space.”

The interior of the house features a living room and meeting space on one side, with a kitchen and conference room on the opposite. Adjacent to the kitchen is a study, which leads into a classroom for both classes and events for visiting writers. Upstairs, the original rooms have been converted to office spaces for the staff.

Though sections of the house have been updated for modernity, there are still many touches that reach into the origins of the home, such as images of Piper next to her letters. In addition, the floor plan has remained the same since its inception.

It's going to be a good season for literature in Phoenix

A photo posted by Piper Writing Center (@pipercenter) on

Jake Friedman is the coordinator of the Piper House. His tasks include marketing and outreach communications, as well as event planning, programming, social media and the Piper website. He said that Piper is the sole nonprofit literary organization in the Phoenix area, and said that the house’s place on campus is to provide “exceptional literary resources and programs.”

“The work that they have done here and the spaces they’ve provided have been immeasurable in terms of just providing spaces for arts and culture, and really helping Phoenix blossom as a metropolitan area,” he said.

As far as its place on the ASU campus, Friedman said that the house serves to support not only the masters in fine arts program in order to produce the next generation of writers, but also the community as well.

“I think the Piper house does symbolize ASU’s investment in the community and it being ‘socially-embedded,’” Friedman said.

MFA alum Angie Dell is the Piper House’s assistant director under Jewell Parker Rhodes and has worked with the trust for seven years.

She expanded upon the mission of the house in an email, saying its goal is “to provide educational opportunities for writers, to connect writers at every stage of their development with sources of inspiration and support, and to foster an intellectual and creative community of readers and writers, both here at ASU and throughout our local, national, and global communities.”

She said that working at the Piper House has encouraged her to infuse purpose into her own work, and wants to not only be a published writer and artist, but a creative leader in her community.

“It is clear to me that people need artistic expression in order to understand their own emotions, and to have empathy for the lives of others,” she said. “People need poems and stories because language is powerful in the way we define ourselves and our world, and storytelling is inherent to the way we perceive, reflect, and solve problems.”

Elms said that the house has influenced his writing positively, considering the randomized placements of English workshops in other buildings, and non-English classes inhabiting the core building.

“Being able to have a place that is where your classes are, that is an established building with some meaning behind, is uplifting,” he said. “It feels good to be writing in a place that is your place.”

Correction: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the building housed staff for the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust. This version has been updated with the corrected information. 


Reach the reporter at djulienr@asu.edu or follow @legendpenguin on Twitter

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