The real and the fake at Richard Hugo House

Every October, Richard Hugo House hosts an "inquiry" into modern life and art, a chatfest for writers.

"Every year, we listen to our members, donors, volunteers and writers to figure out what seems to be urgent in the culture," said Hugo House director Frances McCue. "In the beginning of Hugo House, it was the power of place and Richard Hugo. But the topic changes every year."

The eighth Hugo House inquiry, taking place on Oct. 15, focuses on "Real/Fake: Examining the Intersection of Fiction and Real Life."

"This year, the topic came from a number of different places," said McCue. "One thing that I heard that is pretty amazing is the statistic that the majority of people between 18 and 35 got their news on the Iraq invasion from the Jon Stewart Show, out of all the media available. And now we're seeing the editing of photos of coffins coming back from Iraq and now, apparently, the media is not allowed to shoot pictures of dead bodies in New Orleans. It is very interesting how reality is forced through these different lenses."

For featured speakers at the inquiry, McCue picked three American poets and novelists: Deborah Digges, Sharon Olds and Marge Piercy.

"I think the news is all about what is real and what is fake, and sometimes the most real is delivered through the fake lenses of fiction or poetry," explained McCue.

Suspense novelists, like Tom Clancy, had long predicted a major attack on New York in an eerily accurate foreshadowing of the 9-11 disaster, pointed out McCue, and now that hurricanes Katrina and Rita have ripped through the South, people are once again looking at fiction as well as weather reports to get a sense of what could or should happen in the wake of the hurricanes.

"Right after a national disaster, people turn to writers and artists," said McCue "They imagine the possibilities that we don't see in regular life. And it is through that 'fakeness' or construct that we learn more about what is to come in reality."

But for McCue, the selection topic is also the "pure delight of toying with the boundary between reality and fiction. There are some writers, like Tracy Kidder, who are writing nonfiction but their books read like novels."

The three poets invited for the inquiry by McCue illustrate the flip of "Real/Fake," she said. In their case, fiction is often taken for reality.

In the wake of Sylvia Plath, McCue was interested in exploring how women poets are apparently spinning their work out of their own lives.

"We picked three writers who really toy with persona. Sharon Olds writes these seemingly personal poems about having sex with her husband, the death of her father, what is going on with her kids. But, in sense, all of it is made up. It just seems very immediate, but on some level it is fake because it is a poem," said McCue. "Marge Piercy is the founder of eco-feminist writing and she created all these fake characters who confront real world environmental issues. And then Deborah Digges is probably the one that leans closest to her speaker being herself, because she's written some memoirs where she claims her own persona."

Another big event of the day will be a new one-act play written by ACT Theatre artistic director and local playwright Kurt Beattie. "The Masks of W. B. Yeats" will be given as a staged reading.

"Yeats, as a person, wore many masks," said McCue, who added she shares a "huge affection" with Beattie for the works of the Irish poet.

"And then we'll be showing this really weird Orson Welles film about an art forger. Definitely a chance for people to relax and see something strange," said McCue.

"Every year, we crave having a community party that is also an intelligent conversation," concluded McCue, "and we also want to bring artists in from somewhere else, which we don't often do. This is our chance to put our minds on one thing, because normally there are so many things going on at Hugo House."

To join this year's inquiry or to learn more about Hugo House's many other activities, visit Tickets for Oct. 15 are $40 to $50 and cover all activities for the day.

Rosemary Jones write about arts and entertainment for the Capitol Hill Times. She can be reached at

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