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Our History & Future

Our History: Where We Came From

In 1996, Seattle’s literary world was buzzing. Novelist David Guterson had won the PEN/Faulkner Award. Poet Denise Levertov was inspiring young writers with her work and activism. Playwright August Wilson had moved to town.

But something was missing. In this city of ideas, there was no central place for readers and writers to meet and build new audiences for their work.

Three writers changed that.

Linda Breneman (Jaech), Frances McCue, and Andrea Lewis founded Hugo House as a home for those who prize the written word. They named it for Richard Hugo, who etched the Northwest in verse and who taught so many others how to improve their work.

As the founders suspected, people came: to learn, to listen, to write. Since then, more than 150,000 writers and readers have passed through Hugo House’s doors for readings, classes, residencies, and more. And they’re still coming today, in greater numbers than ever.

 

Our Namesake: Richard Hugo

From an impoverished childhood in White Center, Richard Hugo became a poetic chronicler of overlooked people and places. He wrote about life along the Duwamish River, about people who lived in shacks on the city’s outskirts. He illuminated their lives and their struggles.

Hugo was admired nationally and inspired countless aspiring writers. He reached aspiring poets in his classes at the University of Montana, and all over the country through his work. One of his most influential works, The Triggering Town, collects essays and lectures “directed toward helping [the writer] with that silly, absurd, maddening, futile, enormously rewarding activity: writing poems.”

Richard Hugo’s words and story inspire our mission and work at Hugo House.

"It can be argued that all writing is creative writing, since if one is writing the way one should, one does not know what will be on the page until it is there."

– Richard Hugo

Our Future: Where We’re Going

At a time when rising urban rents are driving many artists out of town and threatening small cultural organizations, the Hugo House community has come together to write a different story. The four goals of our strategic plan detail the direction we will head over the coming years.

We continue to be devoted to writers and remain committed to running a fiscally healthy organization. These goals have anchored Hugo House since its inception, and we remain resolute in our focus on them. However, we also have a new and vigorous focus on expanding our reach.

We seek to engage new groups of people, with the intent to include readers more actively. Reading is as much a focus at Hugo House as writing—it’s an essential component of the craft; by engaging readers more directly we will energize the dialogue and broaden our impact. And, we are determined to center Black, Indigenous, and other writers of color, as well as engage readers of color: the most pressing adaptive work we can do.

Together these goals launch us into an exciting new phase.

Our Four Goals:

1.   We want Hugo House to be a transformative space, a place writers can come together to grow in their art.

 

3.   We want Hugo House to be profoundly welcoming to all writers and readers, to advance racial equity, and to ensure diversity and inclusion.

 

Antiracism at Hugo House

2.   We want to engage new groups of people, creating opportunities to connect more deeply with the power of the written word.

 

4.   We want to build a lasting future for Hugo House, securing the resources necessary to accomplish our vision and thrive.