In 1996, Linda Breneman (Jaech), Andrea Lewis and Frances McCue—three Seattle writers—began to research an idea that Linda proposed: creating an urban writer's retreat with readings and services for readers and writers. Although Seattle is a place known for its writers and bookstores, no central "hub" existed for writers and readers to meet and build audiences for new work. After conducting market surveys and traveling to Atlanta for the Associated Writing Program conference to meet with The Loft and other literary centers, the trio decided to forge ahead.
Linda committed start-up funds to get the place off the ground and leased a mansion on the north end of Capitol Hill. Andrea, Linda and Frances invited experts from the arts, business and education to give input on the viability of a new center. They were committed to an entrepreneurial vision; they wanted to use business-like practices to build a strong institution that would remain flexible and risk-taking in its programming.
As they mused over names, the founders finally stumbled upon Richard Hugo. "We had all read his work, and loved it," says Frances McCue. Hugo wrote beautifully about overlooked places. In many ways, the founders believed, writers had been overlooked in the region. They needed to make a place in the city the way Hugo did in his writing.
In 1997, Richard Hugo House moved to its present location in central Capitol Hill. In October 1998, Hugo House celebrated the end of a year-long renovation and officially opened its doors to the community with its first Annual Inquiry event: "The Power of Place: A Celebration of Richard Hugo." This three-day arts and humanities symposium gathered writers, visual artists, historians, activists and politicians, as well as an audience of over 1,000 people, for readings and open discussions to explore Richard Hugo's work and the power of place that it conjured up.
Since then, Hugo House has seen thousands of writers and readers come through its doors for classes and events, to meet with writers-in-residence or to simply hole up somewhere with a book or laptop. Amy Bloom, Billy Collins, Sharon Olds and Jonathan Raban are a few of the writers that have taught, read and particpated in panels and discussions at Hugo House. And, more recently, Sherman Alexie, Mike Daisey, Marie Howe, Michelle Tea and Reggie Watts, among others, have been commissioned to create and premiere new writing as part of our Hugo Literary Series.
Richard Hugo House is now a hub for a swelling community—one that will produce some of the nation's newest writers and brightest readers.