Why Hugo? — Michelle Peñaloza

Posted Fri, 12/27/2013 - 9:49pm by  |  Category:

Last year, we asked those who are deeply involved here: Why Hugo? The fun continues this year with more anecdotes from instructors, students, members, and more. We hope they’ll show you why should support Hugo House this holiday season. Here’s what 2013-14 Made at Hugo House fellow Michelle Peñaloza has to say.


Richard Hugo’s book, The Triggering Town, is a text I often cite as a teacher of writing. It is a text full of aphoristic, practical, and thought-provoking advice for writers: 

Start, as some smarty once said, in the middle of things.

Don’t erase. Cross out rapidly and violently, never with slow consideration if you can help it.

Read your poem aloud many times. If you don’t enjoy it every time, something may be wrong.

To write a poem you must have a streak of arrogance—not in real life, I hope. In real life try to be nice. It will save you a hell of a lot of trouble and give you more time to write.

Like the words of its namesake, The Richard Hugo House is—like Hugo’s poems and prose—an invaluable resource to writers. Since moving to Seattle almost a year ago, I’ve attended numerous readings and events at Hugo House, been selected as a Made at Hugo Fellow, taken David Wagoner’s 10-week Advanced Poetry Workshop and been an instructor for Write-O-Rama. Through the Made at Hugo Fellowship, I’ve received support from Hugo House in the form of mentorship, community, continuing education, and opportunity. My chapbook project, landscape/ heartbreak, negotiates the discovery of a city by way of its people’s stories and explores the interplay between the emotional and physical landscapes of a specific place. I’m asking people to take me on walks from the Hugo House to places in Seattle where they’ve had their hearts broken (I take “heartbreak” to extend beyond romantic heartbreak to trauma of any kind that my volunteers are willing to share). I’m recording the audio of these walks and writing poems based on these conversations to create a chapbook of poems and maps, which will result in a literary cartography of heartbreak in Seattle. I begin the walks from the Hugo House because it made sense to focus the project in a meaningful way by linking all of these walks, these stories, to this physical landmark of Seattle’s literary history and present.

Each of my own experiences and interactions at Hugo House has enriched my writing life, motivated me to create and revise, and introduced me to a whole host of lovely, creative, lively, and dedicated writers.

So, why Hugo?

Because, as some smarty once said, we should start in the middle of things, and the Hugo House is in the middle of things—whether it’s an award-winning, prolific writer rolling through town to lecture, read, and teach a two-day class or a night of cheap wine and fine words: there’s always something you want to be a part of going on at Hugo House.

Because writing is a difficult, lonely, often-discouraging, and maddening endeavor—and so, we need each other. We need community and visiting writers and cheap wine. We need classes and workshops and readings. We need mentors and conversation and coffee.

Because the ethos of the Hugo House is this: humility, humanity, and honesty. It is “a place to read words, hear words, and make your own words better.” And, aren’t we so lucky to have that in our midst? Isn’t it grand and praiseworthy and sensible to support such a singular home for writers as this?

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Michelle Peñaloza grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in the Asian American Literary Review, Great River Review, and Bellingham Review, among others. She is a Kundiman Fellow and the recipient of an Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship, the Miriam McFall Starlin Award from the University of Oregon, and scholarships from the Vermont Studio Center, the Napa Valley Writers Conference, and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference.