Richard Hugo House: Break It Down

Here is Frances McCue, a founder and long-time executive, talking about Richard Hugo House’s community function — why it might lack definition because to define it clearly might “fix it.” Richard Hugo House was a community writing center in Seattle from 1997 – 2006. My interpretation of this was that Hugo House was more of a vector for people who wanted to write in Seattle, i.e., infrastructure, in the way a network or alphabet or blank paper enables voices in the community to express themselves in tangible form. As you can see the concept of ownership and awarding something like space or money doesn’t really mix with the idea of Hugo House as an extension of the community since really it already belongs to them:

Some innovative foundations and nonprofit programs are looking at communities with an attitude of appreciative inquiry rather than an expertise based on a “we’ve-identified-the-problem” approach. They look for assets that already exist in a community, and work from there. For example, in her book “The Life and Death of American Cities,”Jane Jacobs describes the little old ladies who used to sit in lawn chairs outside their row houses in Boston’s North End. On the surface, they seem like ladies sitting outside and conversing, but, because there is a group of them, they prevent robberies on their blocks. Their watchfulness is an asset.

From Making Things and Making Things Better, at the Community Arts Forum in 2004.

When I worked at Hugo House in 2005, several homeless men spent much of their abundant time hanging out and reading books and old copies of literary magazines. They kind of knew everything that had happened around the neighborhood, and when worse came to worse, there was always somebody in the audience. Their presence to me indicated an underlying vitality to the organization — a striving toward an ideal where the permutation of “house” might just include for some people, a dry place to sit and read. Late last year around the time Hugo House was kicking out SubText, the homeless men disappeared. Someone sent me a flyer they found in the copy machine. It was a list of rules. One of the rules was “No B.O.” A rule like this, most likely someone’s idea of a joke (ha ha), also indicated that the days of embracing the old ladies on the blocks, the homeless man in his baseball cap, the experimental writer in with his tiny round glasses and goatee, was over. The place as a social experiment, then was over. The place was an experiment was over. It was fixed.


Richard Hugo House Evicts The Raven Chronicles and Floating Bridge
The executive director recently evicted the last of the small presses and literary magazines renting space at Hugo House.

Open Office Hours
I saw about three writers a week while at Richard Hugo House. In the two years I saw just over a hundred and fifty writers.

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