The International Writers Center (IWC) opened in October 1990, with Gass as director and Lorin Cuoco as associate director. To inaugurate the center, the Special Collections mounted an exhibit, A Temple of Texts: Fifty Literary Pillars, consisting of 50 works of literature and philosophy that have influenced Gass as a writer. A limited-edition catalogue with Gass's comments about each work was published in conjunction with the exhibit.

During Gass’s ten-year tenure as director, the IWC hosted numerous visiting writers and conferences and published six books. In 2001, Gerald Early, the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters, and distinguished American cultural critic, took over as director of the IWC. The IWC's name and focus changed to The Center for Humanities in 2003, which continues to this day.

The Washington University Special Collections houses the International Writers Center Archive. The archive includes correspondence, journals, manuscripts, and materials toward the programs presented or co-sponsored by the IWC. Most of the items on this section come from the IWC Archive, or are cataloged in the Special Collections.