College acquires home for Center for the Literary Arts

Cornell College has purchased a house with historic ties to its English and creative writing department that will serve as home to the newly-created Center for the Literary Arts.

Bernard ’28 and Winifred Mayne ’25 Van Etten. Bernard built the limestone house on Third Street in Mount Vernon that will become the home of Cornell’s Center for the Literary Arts.

The house on Third Street SW in Mount Vernon was built in 1937 by Bernard Van Etten ’28 and author and highly-respected Cornell English professor Winifred Mayne Van Etten ’25. Another beloved English professor, Stephen Lacey ’65, later lived in the house. When Lacey, who taught at the college from 1977 through 2000, lived there it became a favorite meeting place for students and faculty.

The house was built a year after Winifred Van Etten won a $10,000 prize from the Atlantic Monthly for the manuscript that would become her best-selling novel, “I am the Fox.” In 1956, the (Cedar Rapids) Gazette wrote an article detailing the house, which is constructed of limestone quarried in Stone City,  Iowa about 20 miles away. Bernard Van Etten, who was an architect and superintendent at the Iowa Manufacturing Company in Cedar Rapids, did the work on the house himself, even splitting the stones.

The house, which the Gazette headline called “A Little Castle of Iowa Limestone,” follows the contours of the

Stephen Lacey working on costumes for a Shakespeare play with students in the house on Third Street SW.

lot. From Third Street, it appears to be one story, but there is a second story below grade because of the steep drop of the hill. Another feature mentioned in the article is the fact that nearly each room has a different kind of wood used to panel the walls, from walnut to beech to tropical woods.

“This house is a fantastic addition to campus,” said Cornell President Jonathan Brand, “and the fact it was home to two of our best-known English professors makes it a fitting home for the Center for the Literary Arts.”

The purchase of the building was supported by the generosity of alumni and friends of the college.

The Center for the Literary Arts, which was announced in December and will open in Fall 2012, will foster the cultivation of imaginative writing and communication across departments and disciplines.

For nearly 100 years, the English faculty have used creative writing to enrich liberal education and nurture talented young writers. Professor Clyde Tull (1915-1957) founded and edited the first literary journal at Cornell, The Husk, which published both student work and nationally known writers from 1922-1967. In 1968, Professor Robert Dana continued that tradition by establishing the current student literary journal, Open Field. Dana, who was Cornell’s poet-in-residence prior to his retirement in 1994 and Iowa’s Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2008, also revived and served as editor-in-chief for the North American Review from 1964 through 1968.

Throughout the 20th century, the department brought noted writers to campus, including Carl Sandburg, who visited campus more than 20 times; Saul Bellow; Robert Frost; Stephen Spender; and W. H. Auden.

The college’s Visiting Writers Series includes writers from the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program as well as award-winning contemporary writers such as poet and essayist Mark Doty, poet Angie Estes and memoirist John Price.