Lyall Bush tried to be shy about it. He tried to slip it in sideways. He acted like it isn't big news, like everyone already knows.
He was in the middle of introducing Matthew Stadler last Saturday night at Richard Hugo House. The cabaret space was full of novelists and poets and architects and curators and visitors from Vancouver. Regina Hackett from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer was in the crowd. Michael Upchurch from the Seattle Times was in the crowd. Diana George, whose bank account is waiting on an infusion of $20,000 from the NEA, was in the crowd. Stadler was standing to the side of the stage with a very long work of fiction in his hands.
"I'm Lyall Bush, programs and education manager and soon to be executive director of Hugo House," Bush said, and didn't elaborate, because he was introducing Stadler. Then Stadler—novelist, publisher, "modest raconteur"—took the stage and read a story set in Astoria in 1914 involving a wool shop, a steam piano, a trumpet, some Finn boys, a Finnish lullaby, flower petals floating on water, felt hats, The Count of Monte Cristo, and the idea of prosperity. Afterward Stadler thanked Frances McCue, Hugo House's current artistic director, and Bush, "who is going to make something we can't even imagine."
According to a letter McCue sent to an e-mail list earlier that day, "This June... Lyall Bush will assume the position of executive director. After 10 years at the helm, I will leave my position as founding artistic director of the organization to finish my memoir, Chasing Richard Hugo." McCue will also take a position as visiting lecturer and writer-in-residence in the Honors Program at University of Washington.
Everyone wanted to talk to Stadler after his reading, so I took the opportunity to talk to Bush. I'm excited for him. I asked usual questions: What will happen? How does he feel? He's happy. He's casual about it. He wants to change the name of the Inquiry Through Writing program ("because no one understands what that means") to Hugo Writing Classes. He wants to do away with the annual inquiry (the unwieldy multidisciplinary fall festival) and spend that money commissioning new work for a literary series (a great idea). He's looking forward to Aimee Bender coming in the fall to read and teach for a few days, and said he wants to find better ways "to thread local talent in with talent from out of town."
"Instead of this thing where you float in a famous author from South Africa like Coetzee to semi-insult Seattle audiences with his wisdom, look at this table here," Bush said, gesturing toward some writers. "What about Stacey Levine going up on stage with Aimee Bender? On a theme?"
The poet and filmmaker Grant Cogswell came over and said, "Look at this guy, running Hugo House."
"The Hizzy?" Bush said. Then he smiled and explained to me, "I've taken to calling Hugo House the Hizzy."