Hugo House executive director Tree Swenson is fond of quoting Richard Hugo, the working-class White Center poet and namesake of the city’s premier literary center: “In the world of the imagination, all things belong,” she says.
Imagination was surely required to launch the center’s massive overhaul, which began in 2014 with a $7.5 million fund-raising campaign and, in 2016, oversaw the leveling of the aging Victorian house that was the center’s home since opening in 1996. A state-of-the-art, 10,000-square-foot facility, with an interior decked out by the NBBJ architecture firm (which also designed the Amazon Spheres), has gone up at the same address. The new digs—the ground level of a five-story, 80-unit apartment building—will allow for “50 percent more classrooms, expansion of classes, more visiting writers, more great teachers,” Swenson says, who came to the center in 2012 after heading New York City’s Academy of American Poets for a decade, and before that, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry publishing house she co-founded, Copper Canyon Press, in Port Townsend.
The new Hugo will also house a writer’s salon, a 150-seat performance venue and staff offices to serve a student population that’s nearly doubled since 2012, something Swenson attributes to uncertain times. “It’s essential for people to identify what really matters, and to do that you have to make time to reflect,” Swenson explains.
The center’s growing student body will also be served by Hugo’s next writer-in-residence, Columbia City’s Kristen Millares Young, who changed course from an award-winning career in journalism (for outlets such as The New York Times, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Guardian and Time) to pursue the craft of personal essay, fiction and creative nonfiction. As she puts it, “current events forced me to get personal.” She now writes about feminism, cultural identity and justice, and her debut novel, which she describes as “a lyric retelling of the troubled history of encounter in the Americas,” is due to be published in 2020 by Red Hen Press.
“In a world that rewards cruelty,” Millares Young says, it’s places like Hugo House and a love for literature and stories that bring “us back to the hopes we formed before experience tried to teach us to dream smaller.”
Swenson notes, “One of the best tools we have to envision the kind of world we want to live in is through language, which can convey empathy, compassion and the ability to view the world through someone else’s point of view.”
Hugo House Grand Opening. With Maria Semple. Saturday, September 22. 5–10 p.m. Free. Hugo House, Capitol Hill, 1634 11th Ave.; 206.322.7030; hugohouse.org
A handful of notable Hugo House fall events.
By Maggie Kerr
10/3: The center’s Word Works: Writers on Writing series returns with this appearance from award-winning writer and memoirist Sarah Manguso. 7 p.m. Prices vary.
10/6: Seattle’s multi-venue survey of the legacy of Edward S. Curtis, photographer of indigenous peoples, continues with a discussion led by Mojave poet Natalie Diaz. 7 p.m. Free.
10/11: A reading every hour on the hour marks Seattle’s sixth annual Lit Crawl, punctuated by an after-party. Starts at 6 p.m. Free.
10/18: Elizabeth George, best-selling Seattle writer and creator of British mystery novels, visits the center. 7 p.m. Prices vary.
11/9: Hugo Literary Series presents readings from authors Lauren Groff, R.O. Kwon and Kim Fu. 7:30 p.m. Prices vary.
11/17: This installment of the center’s Writers Under the Influence series features several authors reading and discussing the legacy of the late science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin. 7 p.m. Free.
11/29: In this Word Works event, Natalie Baszile discusses her debut novel, Queen Sugar, adapted for TV by Oprah pal Ava DuVernay. 7 p.m. Prices vary.