local_cafe Hello Mr. Hugo

by Lissa Richardson

Published in Issue No. 158 ~ July, 2010

Although many organizations are similar to Seattle’s Richard Hugo House (www.hugohouse.org) in events and programs offered, no other association in the Northwest does all of what the Hugo House does, in fact few organizations nationwide offer as many resources for writers and readers as the Hugo House.  According to Brian McGuigan, the Marketing and Program Manager for the House, “The Loft in Minneapolis is probably the only lit center that does more than us.” No other organization hosts readings by the big name authors we all know and love, both local and national, while also commissioning authors of various acclaim from all over the country to write a piece specifically for the Hugo House, to be read at the Hugo House. In other words, an evening at the Hugo House could showcase not only Sherman Alexie reading the same story from War Dances he read at bookstores in New York or LA, but also Alexie reading a completely new piece commissioned especially by and for the Hugo House.  “But, we’re not just about the Alexies of literature,” says McGuigan, “we want to unearth new writers, new talent and share their voices with a world of readers and writers that may never have heard these authors before.”  Thus, Richard Hugo House’s vision is very much akin to Pif’s mission to discover and share up and coming authors.

A similar objective is not the only thing the Hugo House and Pif have in common:  Ryan Boudinot (Littlest Hitler: published by Counterpoint, 2006; and Misconception: Grove Atlantic, 2009) one of the House’s two writers in residence, wrote and edited for Pif in the late 1990’s (see some of his author interviews at www.pifmagazine.com/author/ryan_boudinot/), talking with and writing about authors such as Rick Moody and Amee Bender. Boudinot’s newest endeavor is a novel he wrote almost entirely in the Hugo House library.  Karen Finneyfrock is the other writer in residence for the summer of 2010; a spoken word legend on the national level, Finneyfrock’s newest novel, Celia, the Dark and Weird is coming out on Viking/Penguin in 2011.  Both Boudinot and Finneyfrock are available to anyone seeking feedback on their writing by appointment at the Hugo House free of charge.

The residences also appear in public programs, the next of which will be the middle school and teen summer camp, Scribes, this July and August.  Scribes consists of three programs, starting July 5th, and ending in a public reading of the work the kids created over the course of the two-week session. McGuigan explains that the program is arguably one of the best in the country: “We have excellent teaching writers leading each session—Karen Finneyfrock, Margot Kahn and Peter Mountford, to name a few—[Scribes is] based on the studio-model employed by many MFA programs, only without the intense competitive spirit you’d find in many grad programs. The kids love being here and working with published writers who give constructive and supportive feedback on their work. It’s a pretty unique experience.” You can read more about the program here: http://hugohouse.org/content/scribes.

While summers at the Hugo House are devoted to Scribes, August will bring the reading “Starting Today: 100 Poems for the First 100 Days of Obama’s Presidency” featuring poets Marvin Bell, Jeff Encke, Pimone Triplett and Sarah Vap, among others. The reading will be followed by a discussion between the poets and local politicians about how art and politics intersect.  Check back with Pif’s August issue for more details.

Further off on the horizon, the House’s Literary Series in the fall promises a bevy of lauded writers such as Ed Skoog, who published his first book of poetry, Mister Skylight, last year. He’s been commissioned by the Hugo House to create and read new poetry at the Series. Jess Walter is another author from Spokane, scheduled in the fall Lit Series, though he’s not necessarily new.  His novel, The Financial Lives of the Poets was published last year.  Lauren Weedman, writer, actor, and performer was a Daily Show regular a few years ago and is scheduled for a fall reading at the House. And finally, at Bumbershoot, Seattle’s music and arts festival in September, Cienna Madrid (the Hugo House’s out-going writer-in-residence, who also writes for The Stranger) will be presenting slideshow performances with McGuigan.

All in all, we at Pif are excited about the literary opportunities presented by Richard Hugo House, and we look forward to attending the exciting presentations and authors in the House’s up and coming fall Literary Series.  Stay tuned to learn more about life, writing, and reading at Seattle’s literary hub.

Richard Hugo House (www.hugohouse.org), located in the middle of Seattle’s Capitol Hill, has a few things in common with Pif: 1) an origin in Seattle in the mid 90’s,  2) a passion for new, fresh, cutting edge writing, and 3) a belief that writers and readers alike can and should have a place to converge, share ideas, and support one another.   Hence, the next few issues of Pif will dedicate a column to the events and authors associated with Seattle’s Hugo House.