Hugo Classes for Kids

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Seattle, Wash.
(206) 322-7030

Objective: Give young writers opportunities to develop their writing skills and expand their imaginations.

In a Nutshell: Hugo Classes for Kids works with young writers from Seattle public and private schools to create a creative writing community for nearly 60 youths each year. Youths begin each session with a snack, then meet en masse before breaking up into mentor groups to work on creative writing exercises.

Where and When it Happens: The clubs meet in 10 weekly sessions of 90 minutes each. Locations include the Richard Hugo House, the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center and the Beacon Hill branch of the Seattle Public Library.

Who Started/Runs It: Richard Hugo House is a nonprofit center for readers and writers that offers classes, residencies and events for all ages. Hugo Classes for Kids opened its first after-school writing club in 1997. Teaching artists and writers Merna Hecht, Ann Teplick and Negesti Abebech launched the first clubs. The program is now overseen by writing class director Ann Hursey, who manages three site managers and about 20 volunteers per session.

Obstacles: “We have youth who want to join the club, but whose parents do not speak English and do not trust their son or daughter to go off-site to a writers’ club,” Hursey says. “So we’ve taken [some of] the writers’ clubs to the schools,” referring to two elementary schools.

Cost: $28,000 a year. Supporters include the Fales Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Mannix-Canby Foundation, the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, the Windermere Foundation, Wizards of the Coast, Washington Mutual and the Starbucks Foundation.

Youth Served: About 60 (ages 7 to 14) each year. Eighty percent come from schools with free/reduced lunch rolls of 50 to 95 percent. About half the participants are African-American.

Youth Turn-On: Snacks and time to socialize before the club, and visits from guest speakers, including local hip-hop artists and playwrights.

Youth Turn-Off: Preparing for the anthology that is presented after each session. “Young writers also often have stage fright when it’s time to perform at our celebration reading,” Hursey says. “We notice that the longer they stay in the club, self-assurance grows.”

What Still Gets in the Way: The part-time staffers at Hugo Classes for Kids work more hours than they get paid for, Hursey says. “And many of the Seattle public schools are in the midst of possible closure and/or reshuffling,” which could make some of the program locations less convenient for youths who go to them from school.