Realizing a dream years in the making, extensive renovations have been completed at 305 Cooper Street in Camden, transforming the revered South Jersey landmark into the Writers House at Rutgers University-Camden.A dedication ceremony was held on Nov. 17, officially opening a new chapter of this historic structure.
“The Writers House at Rutgers University-Camden will be a cultural center for us all, not just Rutgers-Camden, but South Jersey and the entire Delaware Valley region,” Chancellor Phoebe Haddon told the approximately 150 guests in attendance.
The Writers House will now serve as home to both Rutgers-Camden’s Department of English and the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program in creative writing.
Rutgers University President Robert Barchi lauded the opening of the Writers House as a fitting beginning to Rutgers’ 250th anniversary celebration in Camden, a city once home to famed American poet Walt Whitman. Citing Rutgers-Camden’s rich heritage, he applauded the expanded academic and programming space as a vivid example of Rutgers’ continued growth in South Jersey.
“The Writers House really encapsulates what Rutgers-Camden is all about,” said Barchi.
Kris Lindenmeyer, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, praised the Writers House as a significant turning point for the history of the Rutgers–Camden campus and the entire Camden community.
“Today, we celebrate the Writers House as a phoenix, reborn in a city that has long fed the human spirit through innovation and creativity,” said Lindenmeyer, who recited the opening passage from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, poignantly noting the age-old struggle for justice and greater understanding.Historically known as the Henry Genet Taylor House, the structure, originally built in 1885, was designed by renowned Philadelphia architect Wilson Eyre Jr. in the style of American Queen Anne Revival. In 1989, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The historic accuracy of the building has now been maintained during the renovation process, with significant features, such as windows, flooring, doors, moldings, and fireplaces, restored to their original aesthetic.
“It’s gorgeous. It really dignifies the project in which we are engaged,” says Lisa Zeidner, a professor of English at Rutgers–Camden. “To write in a space like that calls you to the importance of what you are doing. It also gives Rutgers a new tie to the community in terms of our classes and free seminars. It will certainly improve those relationships.”
The first floor will serve as a programming space for the annual Writers in Camden series, student readings, community workshops, and other special events. The second floor will serve as faculty and administrative offices, including the offices of the literary journal StoryQuarterly, published under the auspices of the MFA program in creative writing.
Tyler Hoffman, chair of the Department of English at Rutgers–Camden, notes that the building will provide a central hub on campus for the writing arts, helping to foster a community among writers.
“This is difficult to do without a central place,” says Hoffman, who punctuated the occasion for guests by reciting Whitman’s poem, “Poets to Come.” “The Writers House is as much about instructors teaching how to write, as it is students teaching each other how to write. This peer interaction will foster excellent writing across genres.”MFA student Nikki Feagin of Camden was one of many students in attendance who expressed excitement over utilizing the Writers House to inspire their creative writing.
“So much of writing is a solitary activity,” she says. “To have a space where we can do that, even if we are doing it individually, we will be together. It is inspiring.”
Among others to mark the historic occasion, Patrick Rosal, an assistant professor of English, gave an impassioned reading of Robert Hayden’s poem, “Frederick Douglass.”
The Honorable Dana L. Redd, mayor of the City of Camden and a graduate of the Rutgers School of Business-Camden, issued a proclamation, recognizing and congratulating Rutgers-Camden on the building’s dedication and wishing the institution continued success in all its future endeavors.
– Tom McLaughlin
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