Mary Ann Gwinn's weekly Lit Life column turns its attention to the Search for Meaning Book Festival, and the appointment of Richard Hugo House's new executive director, Tree Swenson.

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This Saturday, the fourth annual Search for Meaning Book Festival takes place at Seattle University. This gathering, which focuses on “the human search for meaning on issues of spirituality, faith and social justice,” might be called the “little book festival that could” — it started with a modest pop four years ago, but has burgeoned to the point that the session with headliner and poetry superstar Mary Oliver has already “sold out” (events are free but tickets are required). The first year about 400 attended. Last year, about 1,000 came, and this year organizers expect 2,000 people, according to event spokeswoman Hannah Crivello.

In addition to Oliver, headliners include James Martin, Jesuit priest, author of “Between Heaven and Mirth” and chaplain of the Colbert Report (job of the year!). About 40 authors are expected, including David Guterson, Lesley Hazleton, Frances McCue, poet Susan Rich and memoirist Rebecca Walker.

Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry is the sponsor, along with the Elliott Bay Book Co.

Panels feature just about every aspect of spirituality and faith, and topics represented on the agenda include Mormonism, evangelism, Islam, Buddhism and Catholicism. Registration begins at 8 a.m. — programming runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For the festival’s main page and ticketing info:

For a complete listing of authors: more information, call the School of Theology and Ministry at 206- 296-5330 or toll-free at 800-578-3118.

New director of

Richard Hugo House

After an extensive search, Richard Hugo House, the Seattle center for writing and authors, has a new executive director: Tree Swenson, a big name in the literary world and a familiar one as well.

Swenson co-founded Port Townsend’s Copper Canyon Press with poet Sam Hamill. At Copper Canyon Swenson, a noted book designer, worked on every aspect of publishing — from design to production to managing the press’s finances.

Swenson left the area in 1993 to take a job in Boston, and for the last 10 years she’s been executive director of the Academy of American Poets in New York City, a national organization devoted to the support and advancement of American poetry. Swenson says she’s thrilled to be coming back. “I never doubted that I would return,” she said. She’ll use her first weeks at Hugo House to get to know the organization. She hopes both to bring a national perspective to the job as well as get “back on the ground” by working directly with the Seattle writing community.

Swenson, 60, will start work at Hugo House in March. She replaces Barbara Green, who’s been interim executive director at Hugo House since June.

Hugo House is the second-largest writing center in the United States, serving more than 6,300 people last year through its classes, events and resources for writers. One more credential Swenson brings to the job: She was a personal friend of Richard Hugo, the poet for whom the writing center is named.

Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or On Twitter @gwinnma. Mary Ann Gwinn appears on Classical KING-FM’s Arts Channel at