I can’t tell you how often people tell me, “I wish my city had a place like Hugo House.” Often, they’re out-of-towners attending a Hugo House event or sitting in on a class. Again and again, they leave wishing that what Seattle has, their city had too.
Thankfully, there is a small but mighty family of writers centers doing extraordinary work around the country. Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of working alongside a couple of them.
At the 2018 Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference (AWP), I joined Lighthouse Writers Workshop of Denver, GrubStreet of Boston, and The Loft of Minneapolis as part of AWP’s “The Civics of Literature” panel.
Don’t let the word “civics” scare you. This panel was anything but a boring history lesson.
During AWP, I was once again reminded of how organizations like ours’ can help make writing education more accessible.
Take, for example, Lighthouse’s commitment to offering free workshops and projects that reach women transitioning out of prison and other underserved communities.
Or consider Boston Writers of Color, a group born out of conversations among writers of color in Grub’s student population and facilitated by the organization.
The Loft, meanwhile, has their First Pages program, which provides free 90-minute creative writing sessions for child, teen, and adult writers.
And, of course, there’s our own commitment to reach all writers through programs like Write with Hugo House, a free drop-in writers’ circle for all ages and genres presented in partnership with the Seattle Public Library, and our writers-in-residence program, which offers Seattle-area writers free consultations with a practiced and published poet or prose writer.
From Boston to Denver to Seattle, writers centers foster communication, champion talent, and celebrate empathy. We encourage our communities to get engaged and write something that makes a difference. In doing so, we broaden our democracy.
This work is important. It is also difficult.
Which is what thrills us about our new home. As those who’ve been following our story know, Hugo House will move into our new location on Capitol Hill later this year. By owning our own space — a reality made possible by you — we will be able to provide an inclusive space for decades to come. We have specifically designed our home with that goal in mind: to provide an open and inviting place where everyone feels at home.
Hugo House, Lighthouse, and GrubStreet have been around for more than 20 years — The Loft for much longer. We are all members of our communities. Unfortunately, not every city has such options but by continuing to do our work, we hope that in another 20 years, every writer and reader has a home to go to.
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.
Look back on past posts in Making Certain It Goes On, a series from our Executive Director, Tree Swenson, that chronicles the planning and building of our new and permanent home.