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Making Certain It Goes On: Keeping Culture Alive

Posted Tue, 9/19/2017 - 7:00am by  |  Category:
Hugo House floor plan

A draft of the proposed floor plan with Hugo House revisions

Kelly Link, who kicked off this year’s Word Works series earlier this month, once said in an interview, “I’d be flattered if someone said that my work is ‘too weird’ for them. I value the uncompliment.”

At Hugo House, we love things that are “too weird.” We appreciate them. And that’s important both for writers and for the community from which they emerge.

As many of you know, we’re currently designing the perfect new permanent homefor Hugo House. We’re trying to reflect all the quirks and twists of a weird writerly soul.

This is a huge project for us, but isn’t everything worth doing a huge project? We’re determined to succeed because Seattle needs Hugo House.

Just consider the location of our new building: Capitol Hill. That’s one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in the fastest growing big city in the country. Capitol Hill is also Seattle’s very first arts district, though as gentrification changes the scene, you might not always be able to see why. Many artists and arts organizations are finding it more and more difficult to thrive there because of increased rents.

We can’t lose the arts from the heart of our city. If we do, we’ll have no soul.

The site of the new Hugo House is right next to Cal Anderson Park. It’s a primo real estate location, and the ground floor could have become any number of things. But because of a dedicated group of people — founders and early supporters Linda Breneman and Linda and Ted Johnson — 1634 11th Avenue will continue to be the center of culture that it’s been since Hugo House opened there in 1997. We’re able to afford the space because they’re willing to offer it at significantly below-market value — an example other developers could follow to build a better Seattle.

Our new space will do an even better job of fulfilling the mission our founders set down two decades ago. We’re keeping writers at our center and creating a setting for the next chapter of our story. By doing so, we’re making a statement that will last long past the ribbon-cutting: Let weird live.

—Tree Swenson, Executive Director

Read the first and second installments of Making Certain It Goes On, a series from our Executive Director that chronicles the planning and building of our new and permanent home. 


Tree Swenson has been the executive director of Hugo House since early 2012. She previously spent ten years as executive director of the Academy of American Poets in New York, and was the executive director and publisher at Copper Canyon Press, which she co-founded, for twenty years. She also served as director of programs at the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is a former board president of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP). She holds an MPA degree from the Kennedy School at Harvard.