Artist Corner: Rebecca Brinson
Greetings readers! November is winding to a close and with it, National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. I thought what better way to highlight writing in the Pacific Northwest than to speak with Development Director at Seattle’s own Richard Hugo House, tireless 826er, and my friend, Rebecca Brinson!
Let’s begin with your origin story. How did you land at Hugo House? Tell us what you do for the House?
Well, I ended up at Hugo House the same way many people do—I was an errant creative writing major. After I graduated from the University of Washington’s undergrad creative writing program, I worked for several years in the development department at ACT Theatre. One of my favorite jobs there was as the grants manager, where I got to put my writing talents to good use. Outside of my work at ACT, I co-founded Northwest Essay with a friend of mine. We had both worked as college tutors and saw a need for affordable, high-quality online personal statement essay editing. As Northwest Essay started to show some promise, I wanted to dedicate time to building it up, so I left my full-time job at ACT and ended up working part-time at the front desk at Hugo House. When the development position eventually opened up, I was ready for full-time work again and ended up in fundraising once again.
I still run Northwest Essay on the side, but my responsibility at Hugo House is to raise roughly 50 – 60% of our annual operating budget from institutional grants (gifts from foundations, corporations, and government entities), special fundraising events, and individual donations. I’m a one-person development shop, so I write grants, plan, and produce fundraising events, manage our membership program and our annual giving campaign, work with our executive director on major donor relationships, and generally be an ambassador for the House. I also end up spending a lot of time managing IT, as I’m the administrator of our online patron database and am enough of a web developer that I get under the hood occasionally of our Drupal installation. (PS, we’re looking for a new Drupal developer contractor to help us out with, among other things, the upgrade from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7! If any of your readers are into that, they should contact me.)
I am familiar what Hugo House does but can you explain it to those unfamiliar with its mission?
Richard Hugo House, named after Seattle poet and writing teacher Richard Hugo, is an arts center grounded in the written word. Our mission is to foster writers, build community, and engage the Pacific Northwest in the world of writing. We offer creative writing classes for adults; creative writing camps and writing circles for youths; produce readings, book releases, art shows, and multi-genre performances; commission and premiere new work by established and up-and-coming authors through our Literary Series; employ two writers-in-residence to work on their own writing as well as mentor (for free!) members of the community; and manage ZAPP, the Zine Archive & Publishing Project, one of the largest independent zine archives in the world. Whew! Through all of our programs, we support the creation of new work, encourage artistic risk and cultivate a welcoming community.
Can anyone just come to the house for writing inspiration or do you have to be a member?
ANYONE can come by! Our cabaret space is often (though not always) empty during the day, and it’s a fun place to write. Of course, there are benefits to being a member–members at the Sentence level ($100+) can use our member writing office, which is stocked with a desk, books on the craft of writing, wifi, and general coziness.
What programmes and classes does HH offer to help aspiring authors?
Nearly all of our programs and classes can be useful to aspiring authors. Works in Progress, our twice-a-month open mic, is one great resource. And our writers-in-residence, Tara Hardy and Peter Mountford, are another–they will meet with you for free to talk about writing and your work! You can also choose from many workshop-based (feedback on existing work) or generative (prompts for creating new work) classes. Also, keep an eye out for more “State of the Book Salons” that we present with Seattle7Writers.
Does fostering a community of writers help authors come out of their collective shells?
We talk about this a lot at Hugo House. Writers, after all, are pretty solitary creatures. But we’ve come to the same conclusion that people who regularly travel alone often come to–yes, being alone is fulfilling and key to who you are, but it makes it that much more important to have a landing pad to return to. The writers’ community, of which Hugo House is proudly a part, is that landing pad.
Any words of advice for aspiring authors?
1) Find a niche, and 2) don’t just labor alone in your garret.
The writers that I see succeeding in Seattle and beyond are, more often than not, those that lay claim to a certain subject matter, audience, genre or subgenre, reading style, or area of expertise, and are willing to make connections with others. It’s not “networking”–it’s being part of a community. If you go to people’s readings, they will come to yours. Honestly, it isn’t about being a perfect writer–it’s about being a good-enough writer that stands out in your chosen field who’s always trying to improve and who’s willing to be a part of something bigger.
How has HH helped YOU grow as an author?
Osmosis! Well, sort of–just being around this many writers, and this much writing, on a daily basis really forces you to bring your A-game. And while most of my writing energy is used up at work for grants, letters, blog posts, annual reports, and the like, I’ve found that my editing muscles have really bulked up. Part of that is training and practice I’ve pursued outside of Hugo House (my continuing work with Northwest Essay, the nine-month certificate in editing I got from the UW, joining the Northwest Independent Editors Guild), but much of it is editing material here at work–and having my own materials edited, too!
As a lifelong word nerd, I participated in spelling bees when I was younger. When I heard about the Celebrity Spelling Bee, it was an easy decision to attend. Whose idea was it to do a twist on such an American school tradition?
Brian McGuigan, the program director, and I came up with it together. We knew we wanted a lower-level fundraising event to balance out our $150/plate springtime dinner auction and we knew we wanted it to be raucous and irreverent. Taking the general spelling bee model, and adding local celebrities, cheating (people can bid money to cheat their faves into the next round), and a bar…well, the math made sense, and the Celebrity Spelling Bee was born. We’ve done it for two years now, and I hope we do it for many more. It’s got some room to grow; I hope we can make it a landmark event.
As I mentioned earlier, you are also a tutor with 826 Seattle. One of our Community Business Partners just happens to be one of my favorite shops in Seattle, the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co. located easily enough, on Greenwood. Can you talk a little about the 826 Seattle connection with all things spacey?
Sure! The original 826 is 826 Valencia in San Francisco; 826 Seattle is now one of eight chapters around the country. The basic model is that there is a wacky retail store out front and a tutoring and writing center in the back (I believe this tradition descended from the retail zoning of the 826 Valencia location). For us here in Seattle, the theme is space travel, which riffs on our “Jet City” history. Hugo House and 826 Seattle are great complements to each other, and great resources for writers of all ages in Seattle; you’ll often find some of the same adult volunteers contributing time to Hugo House and 826. As far as youth writing instruction goes, I view it as a two-tiered system: 826 Seattle is about welcoming access to writing support and encouraging creative and critical expression; Hugo House youth programming is welcoming, too, but asks more of its participants, who tend to self-identify as “writers” and are looking to develop their craft. We have a fair share of those kids at 826, too, of course, but the time commitment alone required of Hugo youth programs (for example, two straight weeks of the Scribes summer camp) means you really gotta be into it.
How long have you been a tutor with 826 Seattle?
I started volunteering as a tutor at 826 in October of 2005. Apparently, I was the first person to fill out the online volunteer application, which is a fun not-actually-an-award to have. I still tutor; I’ve also led many workshops and helped out with multiple fundraising efforts, too. Plus, I met my now-husband there–so I feel like I got a pretty good deal out of it all!
What’s in store for the rest of 2012 and can you share a little of what can we look forward to in 2013 for Hugo House and 826 Seattle?
For me, I’ll be focusing on Hugo House’s year-end fundraising campaign, tutoring on Monday nights at 826 Seattle, and editing essays through Northwest Essay (right now is our busy time, as people are readying their applications for undergrad and graduate programs). At Hugo House, through the end of the year and next spring, we have the three remaining events in our 2012-13 Literary Series (featuring writers like Ryan Boudinot, Patricia Smith, and Cheryl Strayed), as well as many other events and tons of classes. 826 Seattle is in the midst of after-school tutoring (including high school-only tutoring from 6 – 8 p.m., M – Th!), field trips, workshops, and more, which will continue through the rest of the school year.
Finally, we here at GeekGirlCon, love sharing our geekdoms. What have you been geeking over lately?
Bread! I do a lot of amateur baking; currently I’m tweaking flour ratios and testing new baking vessels for my basic naturally leavened bread, which I make with a sourdough culture that lives in a jar on my kitchen table. My next step is to create a system of note-taking about changes that I make. It’s fun to make things up based on memory, but not as effective for improvement, perhaps, as methodically tracking my every baking move.
Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule and if you are interested in any of the programs that Rebecca mentioned above, please click through to read more!
Kristine Hassell is the Twitter Administrator for GeekGirlCon.