By MOLLY AVERY
Creative Writing Mansion is haven for creative writing community.
From classrooms in the master bedroom to writing in the bathtub, the Creative Writing Mansion is unique to UMW. Tucked away on the corner of William Street, The mansion is a hidden haven for creative writers all over campus and remains one of the best kept secrets of UMW.
For years the Mansion has been more like a second home to students rather than just a building. This creative space for creative minds has not only allowed students to think outside of the box, but also build relationships with students and professors in the department.
Laurence Magee, a junior and creative writing major, values spending time in the Mansion outside of class. “I purposely set aside anywhere from a half hour to an hour before class to show up at the mansion, to chat with other students and refresh the material for that class. I value this time immensely, and the mansion has always felt like a chill space to get work done.”
Exciting features of the mansion include a full kitchen, parlor, living room, outdoor patio, the master bedroom and many small rooms. These small rooms were turned into offices for professors. These offices feel much more welcoming than the average professor’s office. One has stained glass windows lining the wall, while another is connected to a bathroom.
Junior and creative writing major Bryce Anderson said, “I enjoy the homey aesthetic of the mansion. It’s peaceful there in a different way from the library.”
Students have the luxury of having their classes take place in the master bedroom. There’s a long meeting table with chairs surrounding it, allowing the students and professor to face each other for the entirety of the class period. This helps encourage open discussion. Attached to the master bedroom is the master bathroom. Although it is not used as class space, students have been known to invade the bathroom to write and workshop pieces in the jacuzzi bathtub.
“It’s not a space built to be a classroom or an office building, it’s just functioning as one right now. It feels inherently out-of-place or like an experiment. Creative writing is all about experimenting and collaboration, and I love that our space reflects those values,” said Magee.
Despite how loved the mansion is by students, it may not be home to creative writers for much longer. There are plans to move the creative writing department out of the mansion, so that the communication and digital studies major can be housed there instead.Chair of the Department of English, Linguistics, and Communications Gary Richards explained the move. “The phenomenal growth in the program in communication and digital studies, which includes the major in communication and digital studies and the minor of digital studies, has justified them becoming their own department.”
The plan to allow communication and digital studies to become its own department and move buildings still needs to be approved by the higher educational board for the state of Virginia. They hope everything will be approved by July 1st so that everything can be arranged before the new fiscal year, however COVID-19 may delay this process.
Although this move is the most logical solution for the new departments, creative writing majors are worried about losing the community they’ve built with their fellow students and professors in the mansion.
“Almost everyone agrees that this plan is not perfect. In many ways, 1201 William Street’s larger configuration of being a house is perfect for creative writing courses’ break-out spaces and for promoting a sense of community with those majors,” said Richards.
“I don’t think the community would be lost per se, but it would certainly be damaged,” said Magee. “The growth of one department like the digital studies and communication major shouldn’t be at the cost of the established community of another. At the very least there should be more open dialogue including the administration, professors and students from both majors to come to the best resolution on this issue.”
If the creative writing department is moved out of the mansion, there are plans to dedicate certain sections of Combs to creative writing majors. These efforts would hopefully allow the creative writing community to keep the bond they’ve formed over the years.
“We are strategizing ways that creative writing faculty and students can still have a sense of unity that was promoted by the space at 1201 William Street,” said Richards. “This includes putting those faculty’s offices together in one hall of the third floor of Combs and allocating existing spaces to be turned into break-out spaces and a poetry library reserved for creative writing students.”
Whether these spaces will be a success is yet to be determined. No space could ever compare to the creativity the mansion sparks in creative writing students.
Anderson believes that the creative writing department will continue to thrive no matter where it is. “I feel like students at universities want a place for them. A place where that’s there for them and other students like them. The mansion was this place for creative writing English majors. If it changes, the creative writing students will find somewhere new to make their own.”