Richard Hugo was born Richard Franklin Hogan, to Franklin James Hogan and the teenage Esther Clara Monk Hogan in White Center, a rough, shabby neighborhood of Seattle. At the age of twenty months, when his parents separated, he was left with his maternal grandparents, Fred and Ora Monk, although his mother tried unsuccessfully to reclaim him after she married Herbert Hugo, a Navy man. The boy, who admired his stepfather, legally changed his name to Hugo at the age of nineteen.
A bleak and impoverished childhood with his elderly, inarticulate grandparents left him with a burning sense of inadequacy. His grandfather, a failed tenant farmer from Michigan, was employed by the Seattle Gas Plant. Hugo believed that his strict grandmother, who had barely completed the fourth grade, was a bit crazy. He discovered that fishing (a love that stayed with him) gave him a sense of fulfillment, just as playing softball and baseball earned him approval and attention.
He volunteered for the Army Air Corps in December, 1942, to avoid being drafted into World War II. Based in Italy, he completed thirty-five missions as a none-too-accurate bombardier (he may have bombed Switzerland). After the war he returned to his grandparents’ home for three years, leaving only after his grandmother’s death in 1949. At the University of Washington, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in creative writing, inspired by the legendary poet Theodore Roethke.
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