The ornaments of a home are the friends who frequent it.
This Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, inscribed in sandstone above the fireplace in Ivy Hall’s foyer, has welcomed writers and book lovers ever since the Savannah College of Art and Design obtained the grand old mansion and turned it into a center for literature and the arts offering writing courses, as well as hosting literary events under the auspices of the Ivy Hall Writers Series.
Ivy Hall had several rough years before a full restoration ending in October 2008 returned the 4,400 square foot mansion to its former elegance. Built in 1883 and named for the ivy growing on its brick walls, it was the home of Edward Peters, an Atlanta financier and president of the Atlanta Railway Company, and his family. In 1883 Ivy Hall was out in the country. Now, it’s at the intersection of two of Atlanta’s busiest streets.
Peters’ descendants lived in this Queen Anne-style house on the hill until 1970, when his daughter-in-law Lucille died. Before developers could tear down the house and build condominiums, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Ivy Hall’s history since then includes being a drug rehabilitation center, but it’s more famously remembered as the Mansion Restaurant, which it remained for nearly 20 years until a fire inflicted serious damage in 2000. The house remained empty until 2005 when its owners at that time donated the mansion to SCAD.
Georgia Lee, director of Ivy Hall, took me on a tour and pointed out the fireplaces — all of them different and remarkable, the 1913 still-working elevator, pocket doors, ivy carved into the newel posts of the stairway, the smoking room, and the charming apartment for writers. All of the wood is original – oak, maple, cherry and curly pine. All the furnishings were chosen by SCAD, and all the artwork is by SCAD students and alumni.
Lee, who came on board in January 2009, runs the Ivy Hall Writers Series, which SCAD started that month. SCAD, by the way, offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in both writing and historic preservation.
Ivy Hall’s guest authors so far include Margaret Atwood, the late Elmore Leonard, Richard Ford, Phillipa Gregory, Bret Easton Ellis, Robert Olen Butler, and Augusten Burroughs, author of Running With Scissors and other books. In fact, Burroughs will be the writer-in-residence at Ivy Hall next spring. Burroughs has spoken at Ivy Hall five times, and SCAD gave him an honorary doctorate in June 2013 at graduation.
Lee also likes to bring in new literary stars, including Karen Russell (Swamplandia), Gary Shteyngart (The Russian Debutante’s Handbook), and Lauren Groff (Arcadia).
Lee, who formerly worked as a journalist for Women’s Wear Daily and is a fiction writer herself, likes to mix up the writing genres.
I think we have the most eclectic writing series anywhere because we have had novelists, screenwriters, artists, non-fiction writers, video.
For example, men’s wear designer and media entrepreneur Marc Ecko is the visiting author on November 7, when he will discuss his new book, UNIlabel: Selling You Without Selling Out.
“Our facility is very tuned into the Atlanta writers scene,” Lee said, adding that Ivy Hall brings in both up-and-coming and established Atlanta-based writers. They include local writer Charles McNair, author of Pulitzer Prize-nominated Land O’Goshen, who will be at Ivy Hall discussing his latest novel, Pickett’s Charge, on November 11, as well as Mary Kay Andrews, who’s visiting on November 5. Pearl Cleage will speak next spring.
Lee was in New York this past summer talking to publishers about including Ivy Hall as part of their authors’ tours, and booked novelist and short story writer Jayne Anne Phillips, who will be at Ivy Hall on January 22 to talk about her latest novel, Quiet Dell. “I want to get more people like that on tour, more local people, and more people who cross over into digital, television, movies, video, art, design and fashion,” Lee said.
The 14-room house Ivy Hall has five classrooms for writing classes and workshops. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson will be there in October to lead a student writing workshop and to discuss her book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.
Lee organized what she calls a digital media boot camp, which was held its first three years in conjunction with the Decatur Book Festival. Last year it was at SCAD’s digital media center and will be there again on December 7. Four experts will talk about how to get published in a world where authors need a digital media presence. It will include discussions on agents, publishers, and small press publishers, and how to use blogs, Twitter, websites, etc. At the end of the day, participants get to build their own blog.
What’s next down the road for Ivy Hall? Lee said future plans call for an Ivy Hall literary magazine within the next few years.
For more information on upcoming literary events at Ivy Hall, check www.scad.edu/calendar/events.com or contact Georgia Lee at 404-253-3206 or at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also keep track of the events by visiting our blog’s pages for Georgia Author Talks & Book Signings and Georgia Writers’ Groups, which are updated each month.
All photographs courtesy of Ivy Hall.
Have you visited one of Ivy Hall’s author events? What was your experience?