A couple weeks ago, I had lunch with Frances McCue, a Seattle-based writer and founder of Richard Hugo House, the non-profit writing center named in the late poet’s honor. I asked McCue to lunch because I wanted to learn more about Hugo’s White Center childhood. My wife and I moved to the White Center area a little over a year ago and, as it turns out, the house we bought is located two blocks from where Hugo’s childhood home once stood on 15 Ave. S.W. It is no longer there, having been leveled years ago to make room for a church parking lot. To read Hugo’s work, you’d think he had no great love for his hometown, the place of which he wrote “clouds and cruelty could be expected.” He wrote of other places with more blatant fondness. But as I said to McCue, Hugo had a certain type of town he preferred to write about in his poetry and those towns had much in common with White Center–blue-collar towns filled with hard-working, hard-drinking, God-fearing folks, towns whose reputations were much-maligned by the outside world. McCue’s response was that despite the tone of Hugo’s poetry about White Center, he was very much in love with it. In fact, she said, everywhere he went in life and in poetry he sought out “a new White Center”. When employed by the University of Montana, he refused to live in the college town of Missoula. Instead, he opted for Dixon, a town of just a few hundred with nothing more than a bar and a laundromat.
This is why it’s so troubling to walk the streets of White Center today and see no sign whatsoever marking Hugo’s life here. White Center had a tremendous impact on Hugo and it shaped nearly every lick of poetry the man composed. But there is no sign of Hugo here. No commemorative plaque, no statue, no nothing…not even a photo of the man on the wall of the Triangle Tavern.
We need to do something to change this. I would love to get a group together to figure how to make it happen. Any Hugo fans in White Center have a clue how to approach the city about this?