by James Crotty
October 30, 1998
are Not Rich,
You Either Buy Clothes Or You Buy Art
has seen its share of female characters. Figure skater cum white
bully, Tonya Harding, hailed from a suburb of Portland, before
to nearby Vancouver,
Washington to plot her comeback (she charges $10,000 an
in case you're interested). The irascible Queen of Dysfunction,
Love, spent a significant portion of her teenage reign of
before she was run out of town. Then there's renowned science
author Ursula LeGuin, ballsy Mayor Vera Katz, Goody Cable, owner
House and Newport's extraordinary Sylvia Beach literary hotel,
Nancy King, former Congressman Elizabeth Furse, and the
Pierce of the world famous Church of Elvis.
But even with such worthy contenders, the one woman who best
the creative, kind, casual and self-effacing ethos of Portland best is
unquestionably Anne Hughes. In her sweet, spacious, aesthetic
has quietly been at the center of the city's culture for nearly three
decades. Back in 1976, long before former Mayor Bud Clark
to art, Anne Hughes posed nude for her own equally memorable
"When You are Not Rich, You Either Buy Clothes Or You Buy
Art." The poster
was originally created to promote the Anne Hughes Gallery, which
Northwest contemporary artists, but in the ensuing years the
fame has far transcended its origins. Anne is also known for
San Francisco to Portland (well, almost). However, she is most
recognized as the proprietor of the beloved Anne Hughes Coffee
Powell's City of Books. Nearly every major author alive today has
it through that unassuming vortex of Portland literary life, though
real highlight is the thousands of unknown lovers, friends and
geniuses who've left their mark in the Coffee Room's biography.
with Anne around the communal round table at her latest project,
and lovely Anne Hughes Kitchen Table Cafe. We've met lots of
talk about community, but only Anne Hughes seems
One time you walked all the way from San Francisco to Portland,
What was that all about?
AH: Well, I walked from San Francisco to the Oregon coast. I
nerve in my back so I had to stop. But anyway, I love to be alone
I love being out on the road alone. I mean, you guys understand
Late at night some people read romance novels. I get my maps out
there in bed. Not to drive to things--I'm not terribly interested in
to actually walk. So I had decided that one thing I really wanted to
was get up every morning and walk. That's all I wanted to do. I
wanted to walk somewhere but I didn't quite know where to do it. I
want to hike because I'm not a hiker. I'm not interested in carrying
whole bunch of sleeping equipment. I didn't know where I wanted to
but you know how coincidence happens. So I went to see Werner
He was speaking in Portland. I go to the Film Studies Center and
showing a few of his films. One of the things he said was that he
to walk. Bruce Chatwin was a very close friend of his and they
this film together, "People Loved His Son." Chatwin was
and Herzog wanted to see Chatwin before he died, but he really
to walk to see him. So he did. He walked to Nice from wherever he
in Germany and showed him the film. Also, when Herzog proposed
wife--she lived in Switzerland and he lived in Germany--he walked
doorstep, knocked on the door, and said, "I've come on foot
have one question: Will you marry me?"
Monk: The commitment involved in that!
AH: Yeah, and also the movement through space. You can get on
and you've never really gone anywhere except to get into the
get off of the plane. Herzog wrote a little book in the '70s called
Walking on Ice." It was also about one of his walks to go see
friend of his. In a way there's nothing profound about it, but when
talked I suddenly knew what I wanted to do. At that point I decided
was going to walk to San Francisco from here. And
it. A month or so later I actually drove the route I thought I would
to San Francisco and I realized I really would have preferred to
home. The next spring I flew down there, and on Easter Sunday a
dropped me off on the Golden Gate Bridge and waved to me as I
walked into the fog. I disappeared. And then I just kept walking.
Monk: What did you see? I'm interested in your first and your last
AH: The first day was a fabulous day. There's this road out of
and it was absolutely exquisite. But the thing I noticed was there
never anybody outside. Everybody was inside. I guess they were
television. I don't know what the hell they were doing. That was
my first impressions: You're moving through space on a day that is
in a gorgeous area, and nobody's out. It was so weird.
Monk: So that's the question you have when you're going through
areas, Where is everybody?
AH: Yeah, in the populated areas, especially on the weekend, you'd
they'd [at least] be out there washing their car. That was my first
and then on the last day, which I didn't really know was going to be
last day, was a day of absolute beauty. I was south of Yahats, right
the ocean. I was moving through space and I was part of the
than an observer.
Monk: It's just not the same when you're in your darned car looking
AH: The thing is, in doing it, I didn't have huge thoughts like,
now I know what I'm going to do with the rest of my life.
of the time I don't think I thought. My mind was a blank most of the
It was just part of the scenery. I didn't really have any
I go off to monasteries on occasion, not for religion, just for the
And there, a lot of things will happen that go through my mind, and
do a lot of writing. But it was real different on that walk. My mind
Monk: Did you go on major paths or highways?
AH: Only if I could. I was basically on the 101.
Monk: So people thought you were hitchhiking?
Not really because I was walking against the traffic. I never had
trouble. People just thought I was this lady walking around. I met
really interesting people. But mostly I met ordinary people. You
you go into a restaurant and you order a sandwich, and they're
It was fun to talk with them. Most of the time, when people knew
I was doing, it just didn't register. There was no expression and
Monk: They didn't think it was a big deal?
AH: No, I don't think they understood it. I think they didn't really
Monk: You know, when you do something like that you really get in
with how huge this country is.
AH: And how the different little areas are like individual countries.
You sort of start out in a town and end up in a town. That's how it
pretty much, and there wouldn't be a lot in between. But there was
even a bus in a lot of these places to get to the next town.
Monk: You're originally from Portland?
AH: I was raised out here.
Monk: How did you end up being the woman who runs the Anne
Room at Powell's City of Books?
AH: Well, I just spent a lot of time there. It was kind of like a library
back then and it really needed a place to sit down. It seemed to me
all they would need would be a coffee machine and a few little
that people could sit at. I opened it 13 years ago. I wrote a little note
to Michael Powell saying, "this is what I'd like to do" and
he said, "Well, have you ever done anything like this
And I said, "No." So he said, "Let's go look around . .
. How about right here?" So I just did it.
Monk: It's still the reading room of the city. You go in there and it's
AH: Yeah, it's a wonderful thing. Sometimes every chair is taken
talking and I just think that's fascinating.
Monk: And, now, given the number of years you've been here how
I've been here almost 50 years. It's not the same place. Certainly
city that gets bigger has its problems but it's the most wonderful
You don't see a city in this country with a downtown like Portland.
to human scale, it's on the river, and when you want to do
night you go downtown. You don't even do that in Seattle or San
And there are so many neighborhoods in this city that are really
places to live.
Monk: In terms of a city it's kind of a miracle. It probably has to do
with some enlightened city planning. I don't know what the reason
AH: Well, I think there were some people who knew what they
and who put themselves on the line. Like building the light rail was
while it was happening and it was real risky business in many ways.
it was Neil Goldschmidt [former Portland Mayor] He
was young, vibrant, attractive. And he hired people who were
than he was. One of the people he hired was Dick Lakeman, who
was an architect
from Harvard, who came out and did the downtown waterfront.
downtown to the water because before that it really wasn't
Here in Portland, since we were kind of a backwater, since we
gotten caught up with things that other cities had done, we were
to do what we did. But again, if we hadn't had people like
and Dick Lakeman it wouldn't have happened.
Monk: So it's just the luck of having great people or is there
about the Portland character?
AH: I think a lot of it's luck but we're also such a plain little town.
My Philadelphia brother calls Portland a hotbed of social rest.
nothing pretentious and glamorous like there is in San Francisco or
Seattle wanted to become a northern L.A. and it feels like L.A.
is kind of slow and you've got time to mull things over. When
stimulated all the time you can think. And Portland didn't really have
anything to attract people to it except that it's a nice place. So
here have a lot of time to think and to look at stuff. And it's smaller
scale so if you want to get something done you definitely can.
Stein had a saying about France. "It's not what France gave
It's what it didn't take away." And I think with Portland it's not
what it gives you, it's just that it doesn't take a lot away from you.
And I think that's a real important concept.
Monk: Give me a couple of the oddest things that have happened
Coffee Room over the years. You've seen so many people come
place. Everybody's come through there, haven't they?
AH: To me it's the crossroads in the city. And there
very few cities that have [such] a place, in terms of a commercial
I actually have the autobiography of the Coffee Room. They were
journals that people filled in over the years. I have 19 volumes that
people have written.
Monk: So you just put these journals out by the coffee stand?
AH: I'd give it to one of my customers to start and then it would be
my table and you could just pick it up and take it to your own
It's from the first day it opened, so it wrote its own
Monk: So people could just write anything they wanted?
AH: Anything they wanted. They could draw. It's really something. I
doing it because the place got so crowded and somebody took
one of the
volumes. But I have ten years in 19 volumes. If you did read through
whole thing you'd see what was happening politically. You'd see
happening with young people, what's happening in the city, with
love affairs. It has some of the most amazing stories. These things
just happen when you let people be themselves.
Monk: We are randomly looking [at the books]. This is from 6/1/96.
book readers. My name is Helen. I am here with my lover, Tom, and
son. The first day of Rose Festival seems like a good day to
that I plan to marry Tom. Let's now hear what he has to say about
Here's Tom: Yes. The first day of Rose Festival one can
a little reticent about that marriage.
AH: Here's a great one. It says, "Doctor Miles Parseck is
to announce that he's through grieving and ready for love.
parties are urged to make contact. Hoi polloi need not apply. Dr.
Monk: Here's somebody's New Year's resolutions. "My New
for 1989. 1)Solve the world's problems. 2) Grow up. 3) Try not to
all of the world's problems today." And "4)Understand
16." [Laughs] That's just so sweet! It's just too good.
If you want to reach Anne, or purchase her poster ("When You
are Not Rich,
You Either Buy Clothes Or You Buy Art"), write to