Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing ramps up outreach initiatives that include classes, readings and events
Getting a bunch of high school students to show up for a poetry reading on a Friday afternoon in the summer is quite a feat. Actually getting them excited about it is another level of accomplishment entirely. Peoria-based poet and Liberty High School English teacher Cody Wilson managed to do both.
Last week at Union Coffee in Peoria, a group of about 20 of his students settled into the bright, industrial-themed space to listen to each other, Wilson and others read their work. On June 4, the Arizona State University alumnus will be reading his work in public again, this time in celebration of the release of his first book of poetry, “Nobody is Ever Missing,” at 6:30 p.m. at Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix.
The book release is being hosted by up-and-coming local publisher Tolsun Books in partnership with ASU’s Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. The collaboration is a testament to the center’s recommitment to community impact through the ramping up of several outreach initiatives that include classes, readings and events that celebrate and support local writers.
“In some respects, it’s a natural evolution of Piper’s history here in the community,” said Jacob Friedman, Piper Center communications specialist. “For a long time Piper has provided an array of programs and services to writers.”
But when Alberto Rios, ASU Regents' Professor of English and Arizona’s inaugural poet laureate, came on as director in August 2017, he encouraged staff at the center to think even harder about how it could “operate with a bias toward meaning.”
Friedman calls Rios “a poet of the community” because of his long history of engaging Valley residents in his work, as he did last May with students at Dunbar Elementary on a public art project that turned sights into sound in celebration of South Phoenix. He says Rios challenged him and his Piper colleagues to be more mindful about how they could get the most out of their resources while creating the greatest good and having the largest impact.
“To think about how we can serve you, not even as a whole writer, but as a whole person. How can we serve you socially, how can we serve you culturally, how can we serve you professionally? [It’s about] taking that larger approach,” Friedman said.
For the past 15 years, the Piper Center has hosted an annual conference, Desert Nights, Rising Stars, and each year, it awards scholarships to students of Maricopa community colleges and local educators to attend. This year, Wilson was chosen as the recipient of the Arizona Educator Scholarship.
“[The conference] was awesome,” Wilson said. “There’s a level of approachability in what the Piper Center offers, and I really appreciate all of the different opportunities — I got to meet local writers as well as established writers.”
At 27 years old, with an armful of tattoos and a laid-back personality emphasized by his casual T-shirt-and-jeans approach to fashion, Wilson doesn’t fit the mold of a typical high school teacher — and his students love him for it.