In Elizabethtown, there is a low-slung brick house that you might breeze right by without a second glance.
It’s pleasant-looking enough, tucked behind some trees, similar to other houses on the leafy streets around Elizabethtown College.
Inside, however, the house is special indeed, especially if you’re a fan of writing and literature.
It’s Bowers Writers House, a just-off-campus building that has been hosting writers and authors since 2010, when Director Jesse Waters launched this mecca for thinking, writing and creative collaboration.
“My plan was to set up an environment where a person from one discipline—perhaps a chemist—can partner with one from another discipline—maybe a poet—and the two can learn from each other,” Waters said. “This is the perfect answer for a liberal arts college. I want our workshops to leave the academics at the door and bring in a passion for learning.”
Waters may be the perfect person to foster such an inter-disciplinary collaboration, given his own diverse background, which includes stints as an executive chef, rock musician and clam farmer. He also brings impressive writing credentials, as his fiction, poetry and nonfiction have appeared in publications nationally and internationally, receiving numerous prestigious nominations and awards.
After Elizabethtown College asked Waters to launch Bowers Writers House, he traveled to other schools to determine what made their houses successful. Franklin and Marshall College and the University of Pennsylvania had programs he liked, he said.
“I believe it’s critical to make the Bowers Writers House a location of the campus, but not on the campus,” he said. “The goal is to create a tone of quiet excellence in learning for the students and other attendees in a comfortable and relaxed environment.”
A dozen or so public events take place each semester at Bowers Writers House, named for college alumni and philanthropists Ken and Rosalie Bowers. For each event, one or two visiting instructors set up programs there and stay overnight in the cozy four-bedroom, three-bath house.
The craft portion of a workshop usually runs in the late afternoon then workshop members are hosted at a dinner, where they meet with the presenter in an informal setting. After dinner, the presenter reads from his or her works and answers questions without needing to hurry.
Over the years, Bowers Writers House has become known both for the diversity of its programming and its collaboration among disciplines, which together have helped recruit many “A-list” authors and speakers to the small-town college campus in central Pennsylvania.
Examples include the nationally known author and scholar, Haroon Moghul, who spoke about his book, “How to Be a Muslim: An American Story;” Peter Mehlman, co-executive producer and lead writer for “Seinfeld;” and “Hoop Dreams” star and educator Arthur Agee, Jr.
“We have usually between 12 to 15 presentations each academic semester, from dramatic readings to musical performances to interactive panels,” Waters said. “Our programs offer a dynamic variety of enjoyable and formative experiences and are open to the public.”
I personally had the pleasure of attending an afternoon workshop by Matt Tullis, an assistant professor at Fairfield University. His memoir, “Running with Ghosts,” highlights how he survived cancer as a teen, while many of his fellow patients, whom he befriended, did not live. In later years, he became a runner and visited with the families of those patients. Sometimes, he said, he could feel the ghosts of those children running with him.
“For the future, I hope to enhance student involvement in the various workshops,” Waters said. “For example, if we are presenting an art workshop, I want to take advantage of this beautiful house and set up easels on the lawn so students can actually practice what they are learning.”
Bowers Writers House is located at 840 College Hill Lane, Elizabethtown. For more information call 717-361-1000 or visit www.etown.edu/centers/writershouse.