In 1996, Linda Breneman, 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 was already 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 meeting with other literary centers, the trio decided to forge ahead.
Linda committed start-up funds to get the place off the ground and the team invited experts from the arts, business, and education to forums 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.
The writers center was named for Richard Hugo, a poet who attained national recognition. Hugo wrote beautifully about overlooked places and people who came from those places and who struggled with poverty and adversity. Hugo House made a place in Seattle for writers much as Hugo made a place in his poems for unlikely places and people.
In October 1998, Richard Hugo House officially opened its doors to the community with “The Power of Place: A Celebration of Richard Hugo,” a three-day symposium that explored Richard Hugo’s work and the power of place that it conjured. Hugo House remained in an old building that served its needs until May of 2016, when it moved to a temporary location on Capitol Hill.
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 participated in panels and discussions at Hugo House. And, more recently, Sherman Alexie, Charles Baxter, Kay Ryan, David Shields, Mona Simpson, Dean Young, Sheila Heti, among others, have been part of our Hugo Literary Series or Word Works.
Hugo House is now a hub for a swelling community—one that is producing some of the nation’s most dedicated writers. Hugo House is aiming to open a brand-new home for writers in the summer of 2018, a place tailored to programs for writers and readers and dedicated to everyone who loves the art of writing.