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Amid outcry over inequity, Hugo House announces resignation of executive director — UPDATE

Swenson (Image: Hugo House)

Calls for change at Hugo House have led to the resignation of executive director Tree Swenson, the organization announced Friday morning:

The Hugo House Board of Directors today announced the resignation of executive director Tree Swenson, effective immediately. Swenson leaves Hugo House in strong financial health after nine years of steady growth under her leadership, including a new home for the organization on Capitol Hill.

Swenson said she wholeheartedly supports Hugo House and its mission, and believes her departure will enable the organization to move forward with building a more inclusive and equitable future.

“Serving as executive director of Hugo House has been an honor and a pleasure,” said Swenson. “I have deep respect and admiration for the organization and its mission to be a space for writers to come together, learn and grow. I look forward to watching Hugo House continue to flourish, repair relationships, diversify and thrive.”

UPDATE 1:22 PM: Organizers called the resignation part of “positive steps forward” but said “previous, unmet demands for community-led change at Hugo House” remain an issue that must be addressed.

“Tree’s departure and the reopening of the Development Director position are positive steps forward, but they do not fulfill all of the demands we have made of the Board,” Claudia Castro-Luna, Washington State’s current Poet Laureate, said in a statement from the Writers of Color Alliance. “Moving forward, Hugo House’s community, not just the Board, must have a seat at the table and share real power in selecting the new ED and creating a transformative race equity process—in addition to clear, open and transparent communications.”

In addition to Swenson’s resignation, the Hugo House board said it was reopening the hiring of a development director position after criticism the job was filled by an internal, non-BIPOC hire.

CHS reported here on the effort from writers, teachers, and members of Hugo House calling for the resignation of the literary nonprofit’s leader for failing to adequately respond to calls for change over “structural and systemic racism” and the nonprofit’s failure to serve as “a welcoming and supportive place for writers of all races.”

“This latest push came as a pushback to (Hugo House’s) performative statement on race equity sparked by the events in summer of 2020,” Shankar Narayan, an advocate involved in the effort, told CHS.

Among the complaints were “low teacher pay and lack of support” and how artists are compensated for participating in Hugo activities.

Swenson joined Hugo House in 2012 after previously serving as the executive director of the American Academy of Poets in New York City.

She oversaw recent years of remarkable growth including the opening of Hugo House’s new writing center on 11th Ave powered by more than $1 million from the state’s Building for the Arts program and a $7.5 million capital campaign.

“Tree Swenson has been an asset to Hugo House over the past nine years, and the board greatly appreciates all of her many contributions,” Hugo House board president Dick Gemperle said in a statement on the resignation.

“We have a lot of work to do as an organization to address our failures around equity and inclusion,” Gemperle said. “We are moving forward in that work with intensified urgency.”

Hugo House said the board of directors led by member Shahina Piyarali will start search efforts “right away.”


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Pamela X.
Pamela X.
2 months ago

Another death kneel to a vibrant arts organization to a small and ideologically driven Community who simply wants to use arts organizations for political and ideological propaganda.
For the record, the organizer of this coup can be seen in this video praising Hugo House to high heaven less than 8 months ago. I heard the itinerary of complaints and none of them were backed up with any sort of concrete evidence. This is truly shameful but sadly predictable. Does anybody ever say “no”anymore?
https://youtu.be/iMHgZIqJGL0

KGR
KGR
2 months ago
Reply to  Pamela X.

It’s ironic that people pick on orgs like this, PCC, Bernie who will listen to them and want to help, and the Trumps, Krogers et al they stay silent about. Reminds me of how bullies operate.

Rita Smith
Rita Smith
2 months ago
Reply to  Pamela X.

I have high regard for what I know about Hugo House, and am new to the issues that led to this resignation. I do, however, think predominantly white organizations have a huge resistance to responding to issues raised by people of color. The commenters here seem highly defended and melodramatic. I wish Hugo House well in addressing issues of systemic racism effectively.

JCW
JCW
2 months ago
Reply to  Pamela X.

Evidence is irrelevant. Feelings are the only metric that matters. Never mind any good Swenson did for HH…WOCA wanted blood and power, and anything less than that was unacceptable. Curious to see how this shakes out now that they have it.

Emily
Emily
2 months ago
Reply to  Pamela X.

Not only did she not say “no”, Tree Swenson signed last year’s open letter that was an opening shot in the coup. “Death kneel” is an appropriate typo.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSc_L2MTEFgfq8SMO0dSu1YVMJ3ekCGqxAAGt6WAqgNQ9VFwMA/viewform?mc_cid=2ba85f0dd2&mc_eid=9306515368

epwarp
epwarp
2 months ago

A victory for nobody!

kasa
kasa
2 months ago

Too late to save ZAPP but good riddance to like 15 years of toxic leaders at RHH

slider292
slider292
2 months ago

Another reminder that the woke left is a circular firing squad.

Sasha
Sasha
2 months ago

Hostiles takeover. Sad.

Ionatana T Iese
Ionatana T Iese
2 months ago

I remember under Frances McCue the Hugo House was a safe space for writers of color… But over the last decade, it felt less and less a safe space. After being one of the first poets of color to hang around and take workshops back in the late 90’s early 2k…. It was Good times, I look forward to new memories!

JCW
JCW
2 months ago

Genuine question…what specifically has happened at HH that made you feel that it was less of a safe space?

JerSeattle
JerSeattle
2 months ago

In the video’s I’ve seen online Hugo house looks very diverse.

I think there is a strange sense of lack of balance in this person leaving. It sounds like the Hugo house should teach about diversity and diversify more if that’s there goal. But I don’t think forcing people out is the solution. I think we should be embracing all races and colors. Education on bias is very important. Including bias going both ways.

We should be working on tearing down the walls between races and not building them up higher through removing those versus educating and embracing.

Power and control only leads to more power and control. It alienates and divides communities.

Embracing and working with others leads to collaboration. You can’t force your way on others. You embrace and work with.

Sounds like power and control got the better of peoples senses.

Bigger picture: outreach should be to the elite to teach them about diversity and the challenges of other races and economic levels. Use your writing skills to educate Americans about the real challenges of race. Embrace and educate is what should be the focus. Not ostracizing and building up walls under the banner of race equality.