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Richard Hugo House offers help to Seattle’s aspiring and published authors

Seattle's Richard Hugo House offers classes and advice to aspiring writers

Richard Hugo House has to be one of Seattle’s best-kept literary secrets.

Hidden away on Eleventh Avenue opposite Cal Anderson Park, Hugo House has quietly been bringing published and aspiring writers together for over ten years now, along with musicians, actors, artists… it could easily lay claim to being the center of Seattle’s creative revolution.

Hugo House’s classes and seminars teach budding writers the tools of their trade, but their involvement in Seattle’s literary scene doesn’t stop there. The House also employs a number of writers-in-residence who are available to share their advice and wisdom, while the Hugo Literary Series brings together published authors with other artists to riff on a common theme. The Hugo Literary Series will begin again this October with an evening of work based on the theme ‘Under The Influence’.

I caught up with Brian McGuigan, Marketing and Program manager at Richard Hugo House, to ask him about the center’s origins, their writers-in-residence program, and the many successes they’ve had over the years.

Dan Coxon: How did Richard Hugo House start, and what are your aims?

Brian McGuigan: Hugo House started in 1997 around a kitchen table—like most great things—when three writers, Frances McCue, Linda Breneman and Andrea Lewis, dreamed up a place where writers could meet, learn, grow and support each other together. In the beginning the House offered only a handful of classes each year, a smattering of events, and it had one writer-in-residence, Rebecca Brown. After thirteen years the organization has grown, offering more than 30 classes each quarter, a plethora of events, co-sponsorships and partnerships, and two adult and two youth writers-in-residence.

DC: How does the writers-in-residence scheme work?

BM: The writers-in-residence are available several hours a week to meet with writers in the community, by appointment only to workshop or talk shop free of charge. You don’t have to be a member of Hugo House to meet with one. You just have to make an appointment and be willing to share your work and receive feedback on it. Our current WIRs are Ryan Boudinot, local novelist and author of The Littlest Hitler and Misconception, and Karen Finneyfrock, a poet, slam legend and YA author. Her book, Celia the Dark and Weird, will be published on Penguin/Viking in 2011.

Richard Hugo House plays host to the Hugo Literary Series events

The writers-in-residence are selected every two years based on the merit of their work, but also their involvement in the community. Because WIRs are available to the public and work with writers at all levels and in a variety of genres, we want writers who have the special skill of being able to convey criticism without dampening anyone’s spirits. Since my office is adjacent to the WIR office, I often hear poets working out the kinks of their performance with Karen, or Ryan providing sage advice on the publishing process, and it makes me realize how valuable this service is to the community.

Writing is such isolated work, and I think it’s important that we provide an opportunity for emerging writers to receive mentorship from established ones without having to attend an MFA program or a writing conference.

DC: Have you had any particular successes emerge from your classes and programs over the last few years?

BM: Three years ago, we commissioned Mike Daisey to create a monologue on the theme ‘Lost in Translation’. It became one of his most successful shows, “If You See Something, Say Something”, about the Trinity nuclear test site. He toured the monologue nationally and internationally, and it all began at Hugo House. That same evening, Lesley Hazelton was commissioned to create a new piece, which was the precursor to her latest book, After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam. More recently, we commissioned local poet Elizabeth Austen to create new poetry and one of the poems became the title poem of her debut collection that was published recently by Floating Bridge Press.

Actor Matt Smith created a piece on the theme ‘Visiting Hours’ that we loved so much we commissioned him to create a full-length solo performance, his first in six years. The show, “All My Children”, ran for six evenings in May and June, and each night was a sell-out. After the success here, Matt is now considering taking the show to bigger venues and to other states.

DC: So how can people support your projects, and how will their contributions be used?

BM: People can support Hugo House by becoming members and making contributions, which can be done through the Hugo House website, or by calling us at (206) 322-7030. Like any community-based nonprofit, we certainly need as much support as we can muster, especially in these tough financial times. Contributions are used for everything from commissioning new works, to scholarships for kids and teens in our summer writing camps, to keeping the lights on and the coffee pot full with the fuel our staff needs to put in the long hours each day.

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