Right now, Seattle is trapped in the nether realm between openly mourning the past (see editor Jaimee Garbacik’s Ghosts of Seattle Past project) and openly agitating for the future (see the conversation about how quickly we can get light rail up and running to Ballard). Tonight, Hugo House finds itself exactly between those two polar extremes as a kind of Schrödinger’s nonprofit writing center. In 12 days the House moves to its temporary First Hill headquarters as a two-year guest of the Frye Art Museum while the old structure is demolished to make way for a shiny new facility at the base of five stories’ worth of condos.
For one last glorious Saturday night, the House is hosting a party called Epilogue/Prologue, a free celebration of the center’s past and future. It should be a breathtakingly sloppy evening; partiers will be encouraged to write messages on the walls of the House. Will they reminisce over some of the best readings the House has hosted, like the time both Sam Lipsyte and Ben Lerner read in a single enchanted evening, or when Maria Semple unveiled pieces of what would become Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Will they finally write down the gossip that previously has only been whispered about certain disgraced former Hugo House staffers? Will they admit to nasty trysts in the ever-filthy Hugo House bathrooms? One would certainly hope so. The best graffiti will be preserved and displayed in the new Hugo House two years from now, so there’s a real opportunity for immortality here.
Epilogue/Prologue also features booze, a “past room” full of photos from the House’s (nearly) two decades of continuous operation, food trucks, a confession booth, and a poetical-scientific experiment from lyrical behaviorists the Vis-à-Vis Society. But sometimes the best party features are the unplanned ones: Get enough writers and beer into a single structure, and there are likely to be fireworks, fucking, or tears, or all three. And if you ply House staffers with a few drinks, you might be able to convince them to sneak you down into the basement to investigate the (supposedly empty) child’s coffin hiding in a musty passageway. (The building used to be a funeral home.)
But before you start singing “Danny Boy” and whining about how new buildings are all “boxy” and “have no soul,” it’s important to remember a few things: First of all, the House might be temporarily moving to First Hill, but it’s not really going anywhere. Second of all, it’s not every day that a nonprofit writing center gets an opportunity to reimagine itself, so it’s obviously more constructive to try to shape the House that comes than fret about the House that was. (I’m still pulling for them to open a bar in the new space that’s open seven days a week and becomes its own kind of literary center.) And third of all, remember that nobody likes a writer who can only look backward. All good writing faces forward, and the only future that really matters is the one you write for yourself. Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave., 322-7030, hugohouse.org. Free. All ages. 7 p.m.
Paul Constant is the co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage like this at seattlereviewofbooks.com.