Literary Event of the Week: Hugo Literary Series: Exile

Hugo House management plans the themes for their Literary Series events months in advance. They have to give the participating three writers and one musical act plenty of time to come up with new work incorporating their prompts. So it’s not like the theme of this Friday’s Literary Series event, “Exile,” was chosen as a response to the chaos unleashed by President Trump’s Muslim ban. It’s just — well, “a happy accident” isn’t the right term, obviously. More like, the dread that was floating around in the back of everyone’s minds as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump coaxed throbbing waves of xenophobia from his base happened to be more relevant to 2017 than many of us ever expected.

So this Friday at Hugo House’s Literary Series event at Fred Wildlife Refuge, three writers and one band will present new work centering around the word “Exile.” A certain bigoted red-trucker-cap-wearing specter will undoubtedly loom over the proceedings all night. Will the artists directly engage with those affected by Trump’s Muslim ban? It’s very likely; the internet is heavy with footage of families broken across international lines for no real reason besides a narcissist’s capricious misunderstanding of what causes terrorism. Citizens are openly and seriously talking about wanting to leave America. Exile is in the air.

Hugo House selected some very fine writers for this outing of the Literary Series. Angela Flournoy, whose debut novel The Turner House won accolades for its depiction of an African-American family in Great Recession-era Detroit, is headlining. Flournoy will be returning to Seattle later this spring as part of the Seattle Public Library’s Seattle Reads… celebration, so this event serves as a kind of trial run, a way to familiarize yourself with the author before she appears in libraries all over town.

Joining Flournoy will be Portland author Megan Kruse, whose debut novel Call Me Home was a Northwest gothic about the members of an unhappy family that breaks up but can’t quite stop orbiting each other. And poet Phillip B. Williams writes beautifully about the rage and heartbreak of American cities — his “Of Darker Ceremonies” features a chalk outline around a body that “unpeels from the street” and goes on a drug-fueled rampage, “smashes every windshield” it encounters.

These three writers already focus on exiles. Flournoy wrote a whole book about the economic exiles of Detroit, the first people who were abandoned by the American Dream that seems to be slowly edging us all out. Kruse writes beautifully about emotional exile. And Williams has written about the exile of race, the uncomfortable Schrödinger's cat situation that African-Americans find themselves in: if they speak out about injustice, they’re making everything about race, but if they say nothing they’re excluded from the conversation because of their race. Together with electronic industrial pop duo Crater, these three writers will deliver strangely timely pieces that took months to write. Now is the time to speak up for exiles.