Transition Updates: Collaboration, commonality, and our upcoming meeting with WOCA

Dear friends,

Many of you have written me, wondering how Hugo House is doing during this time of transition—so I’d like to write some occasional letters to keep you all in the loop on how things are going. Consider them a kind of response, and a note of gratitude, to the notes that you’ve have sent us over the past months. Which brings me to the heart of this letter…

Several weeks ago, I heard from a community member who expressed concern about Hugo House’s commitment to racial equity. She wondered how we could have made racial equity one of the four main goals in our 2020–2025 Strategic Plan and yet made so little progress. Simultaneously, another community member wrote in, worried that Hugo House would become another kind of entity as we began to center racial equity in our systems and programs, more of a social justice organization than a literary center.

Many of us, of course, fall somewhere between. Hugo House’s vision is ambitious—to open the literary world to everyone who loves books or has a drive to write—but with that ambition comes enormous complexity, and enormous responsibility. What does it mean to open our doors to all writers and readers, despite differences in lived experience? What does it mean to serve people who might vehemently disagree with one another? As with most things, it’s easier said than done.

I read pain in both letters, pain that the Hugo House they have come to love is either falling short or facing irreconcilable change. It feels like a binary, two incompatible perspectives. But I learned years ago from a novelist friend that, when faced with a binary, it’s always best to find a third option. She was talking about narrative structure, but I believe the advice holds.

The third path, to me, is commonality. At the heart of both fears is a deep love for Hugo House. Love is at the heart of the Writers of Color Alliance and their calls for change. Love is why the Hugo House board volunteers their time to steward the organization. Love drives our overworked staff to keep programs running. And I believe love for Hugo House—or at least its mission—has compelled every one of you to keep taking classes, attending events, and finding communion in the company of writers despite the challenges of the past year.

I’m bringing my own love for Hugo House into this critical moment as I try to guide the organization away from conflict and toward productive engagement. As you might have heard, the Hugo House board is meeting with WOCA tonight to begin finding its own path toward commonality and a collaborative future. No doubt, love for Hugo House will guide that conversation. I hope it does.

The notion of hope implies a future, and I hope for a Hugo House that is growing to better welcome writers who’ve been historically shut out, but also a Hugo House that is unified by a shared dedication to the art of the written word. I am certain that Hugo House will always remain a haven for writers seeking guidance and connection. I am equally certain that with hard, intentional work, Hugo House can truly become a place of belonging for everyone.

In community,

Rob Arnold