History of the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House

"The Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House at NYU has proved to be the loveliest of boons to the New York literary community at large. It is a total delight to be there. The intimacy of the place combines with the fervor of literary enthusiasm, and the result is both charming and nourishing."

—Alice Quinn, Executive Director of the Poetry Society of America.

This beautiful and historic townhouse located at 58 West Tenth Street was built in 1836, and remodeled by the architect Stanford White, who joined the three-story house on the front of the lot to the rear house with a one-story addition. Fireplaces in the main room of the rear structure are said to be some of Stanford White's first New York work. The structure in the rear of the lot was originally home to the celebrated Tile Club, a group of 31 notable New York painters, sculptors, and architects—including Winslow Homer, William Merritt Chase, J. Alden Weir, John Henry Twachtman, Ehilu Vedder, Edwin Austin Abbey, Arthur Burdett Frost, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and Stanford White—who met here frequently between 1877 and 1887. At one time, the townhouse was the residence of Hamilton Fish Armstrong, longtime editor of Foreign Affairs Magazine. The land and structures were ultimately purchased by the Onassis family for use by New York University as a Greek cultural center, and for a time it served as NYU's center for both European Studies and International Affairs.

In January 2007, with generous support from Lillian Vernon, the house became the home of NYU's distinguished Creative Writing Program. Since then, the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House has become a vibrant New York literary landmark known for its lively readings and salons. The townhouse is the ideal home for the creative writing program, and is located in the same Greenwich Village neighborhood where so many writers—James Baldwin, Willa Cather, Hart Crane, E.E. Cummings, Frank O'Hara, Mark Twain, Richard Wright, and Marianne Moore, to name just a few—once lived and worked. The Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House allows writers—established and emerging—to share their work in an inspiring setting. Students come to the house to attend workshops, craft classes, and special events, and also to gather informally, seeking out quiet corners in which to read and write. The beautiful reception floor, which features skylights and stained glass by nineteenth century master D. Maitland Armstrong, is an ideal setting for the intimate readings, literary salons, panel discussions, book parties, lectures, and seminars that are held in the house throughout the year.

Writers' Photographs  
In February 2008, the Writers House unveiled its new permanent collection of photographs by Nancy Crampton, based on her thirty-five years of work with prominent writers. The twenty-four stunning black-and-white portraits displayed throughout the house capture such luminaries as John Ashbery, W. H. Auden, James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, Gwendolyn Brooks, E. L. Doctorow, Ralph Ellison, Galway Kinnell, Stanley Kunitz, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, Anne Sexton, Kurt Vonnegut, and others. An exhibition was made possible by a gift from Lillian Vernon.

About Lillian Vernon

Lillian Vernon (1927–2015), a much beloved benefactor of the NYU Creative Writing Program, lived an extraordinary life. Born in Germany, Lillian Vernon emigrated to the United States with her family in 1937 before the onset of World War II. With only wedding gift money in her pocket, she placed an advertisement in Seventeen magazine for personalized purses and belts. She received an overwhelming response and her business was launched. The Lillian Vernon Corporation, founded in 1965, went public in 1987, making her the first woman to found a company publicly traded on the American stock exchange.  

A philanthropist as well as an entrepreneur, Ms. Vernon served on the boards of several non-profit organizations in her lifetime, and received several honors, including the Big Brothers/Big Sisters National Hero Award, the Direct Marketing Association Hall of Fame, and The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence. She was a New York University trustee and a member of the Sir Harold Acton Society. Lillian Vernon's many gifts to the NYU Creative Writing Program included the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House, the Lillian Vernon Graduate Fellowship, and the Lillian Vernon Distinguished Writer-in-Residence professorship. Lillian Vernon Distinguished Writers-in-Residence include Anne Carson, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jayne Anne Phillips, and Francine Prose. Thanks to the generous support of Ms. Vernon, the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House is now one of the most lively and vibrant centers for the literary arts in the country.