Richard Hugo was born in 1923 in White Center, Washington, a suburb of Seattle, and said at the time it was considered "just outside the boundary of the civilized world." Although he did see his mother occasionally, she left him to be raised by her parents in a strict, silent house. Hugo grew up with the conviction that he himself was on the outside of society. Desperately insecure around females, he set out to be every man's best friend. Friend William Matthews states that Hugo had "the loner's natural gift for friendship, and he watched baseball, drank, fished and made excursions with a remarkable number of people."
To a less critical observer, he seemed to lead a fairly normal Depression-era childhood: fishing for porgies on the Duwamish Slough, idolizing Ronald Coleman in the movie Lost Horizon from the kiddie section of George Shrigley's White Center Theatre, being forced by his Grandmother to take confirmation at St. James or move out of the house.
Hugo's primary passions--baseball and fishing--were nurtured early in his childhood and continued with him throughout his life. In the autobiographical collection of essays entitled "The Real West Marginal Way," he states that "The dignity and self sufficiency I longed for, I found on the baseball and softball fields, or when I was alone." Hugo played baseball and softball through high school and semipro ball in the city leagues. Shortly after he turned 19 he was called into service during World War II. He served as bombardier on 35 missions with the Army Air Corps (now the Air Force) based in Italy. After his discharge in June of 1945, he returned to White Center and to the semipro leagues. He made the squad at the University of Washington, but got kicked off for playing intramural softball.
Hugo went to college sporadically, studying creative writing (he attended the first two classes conducted by Theodore Roethke at the University of Washington) and working menial jobs in spurts. He played softball in the West Seattle Class A League for 13 years. While most of his teammates were married and getting on with the rest of their lives, he would take the statistics home and compute batting averages.
Hugo began working for Boeing in 1951 and was employed there as a technical writer. Hugo's first book of poetry was published in 1961; his last in 1980. During those years he moved from Boeing to the directorship of the creative writing program at the University of Montana.
In 1977 he became editor of the Yale Younger Poets Series. He received numerous fellowships and awards, including the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He has also published chapbooks and one mystery novel.
Richard Hugo died suddenly of leukemia in September of 1982, between the 6th and 7th games of the World Series. The last sentence of this stanza from Hugo's poem "Glen Uig" appears on his gravestone in the St. Mary's Cemetery in Missoula, Montana:
Believe the couple who have finished their picnic
and make wet love in the grass, the wise tiny creatures
cheering them on. Believe in milestones, the day
you left home forever and the cold open way
a world wouldn't let you come in. Believe you
and I are that couple. Believe you and I sing tiny
and wise and could if we had to eat stone and go on.