Book Release Event

Pongo Volunteers and Acclaimed Writers Gathered
for Inspiring Evening at Richard Hugo House
(March 13, 2014)

March 13, 2014, 7:00 PM: Event and Book Release to Showcase Pongo's Work with Incarcerated Teens, Using Writing to Overcome Trauma and Grief [Richard Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave, Seattle, WA  98122]. Here is the press release...

When Seattle author Eli Hastings began volunteering with the Pongo Teen Writing Project he found himself facilitating poetry in King County Juvenile Detention. In their Pongo poetry, the youth wrote about witnessing and experiencing addiction, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and other hurts, at home and in their community.


“What I saw was traumatized kids who were acting out their pain and confusion,” says Hastings. “However, using the Pongo method we’ve been able to help them resolve some of their trauma and move forward, and we’ve done it through compassion and writing.”

In celebration of a new book release by Pongo-founder Richard Gold titled “Writing With At-Risk Youth: The Pongo Writing Method” (from Rowman & Littlefield Education) local author, counselor and Pongo leader Eli Hastings will host a two-hour event on Thursday, March 13th at 7 p.m. at Richard Hugo House, located at 1634 11th Ave in Seattle. This free event will explore the power of using writing as a healing tool with personal anecdotes from Pongo, and will feature other renowned local authors for an entertaining, educational and inspiring evening.


Pongo is a nonprofit organization that uses poetry to help youth heal from childhood traumas, such as abuse and neglect. With writing projects inside juvenile detention, the state psychiatric hospital, and other sites, Pongo has helped 7,000 youth over its 18-year history.  Pongo and Richard Gold have been recognized by the Microsoft Alumni Foundation, the Mayor’s Office, KING5 TV, and, recently, PBS NewsHour with U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway, among many others. 


The participants will share the Pongo Method with interested members of the community and acknowledge the accomplishments of the project at a time when Pongo’s outcomes are putting the organization on the map as a cornerstone of artistic, clinically therapeutic social service models. The event will feature a short documentary film about Pongo, presentations by Eli Hastings and Richard Gold on writing and healing, readings of poetry written by incarcerated youth, a panel with clinical members of the Pongo family, and will be followed by a Q&A.

Gold says he hopes to encourage and support new writing projects nationally that serve suffering youth. “Pongo is ready to share its methods and also share the profound experience of bearing witness to young people who write from the heart,” says Gold. 

Earlier this year Hastings was honored by The Seattle Times and KUOW as one of thirteen young artists poised to change the future of arts in the Pacific Northwest. Hastings is a Pongo team leader, volunteer and author of the critically acclaimed memoir, “Clearly Now, the Rain: A Memoir of Love & Other Trips,” released last year by ECW Press. 

The Richard Hugo House is located at 1634 11th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122. This free event is Thursday, March 13 at 7 p.m. Drinks are available through a cash bar for those 21+.


Eli Hastings has worked as a mentor and team leader for Pongo since 2008.  He holds Master’s degrees in creative writing and psychology/family therapy.  He is a youth counselor and the author of the acclaimed memoir “Clearly Now, the Rain: A Memoir of Love & Other Trips.” He was recently featured by The Seattle Times and KUOW as one of “13 for ’13: artists shaping the future of the arts in the northwest.” 

Richard Gold founded the Pongo Teen Writing Project, a nonprofit that offers unique therapeutic poetry programs to adolescents who are in jail, homeless, or in other ways leading difficult lives. Pongo has worked with 7,000 teens over 18 years. Before Pongo, Richard was managing editor of Microsoft Press. In 2010, Richard was named a Microsoft Integral Fellow, honored for his work with Pongo, by Bill and Melinda Gates and the Microsoft Alumni Foundation. A book of Richard’s illustrated poetry, “The Odd Puppet Odyssey,” was published in 2003. In this book, the character Pongo is a puppet, like Pinocchio, who struggles awkwardly with becoming human, until he aspires to compassion.

Liz Koontz, MD, is a third year psychiatry resident at the University of Washington with particular interests in child and adolescent psychiatry and psychotherapy.  She was exposed to Pongo during a child psychiatry rotation in medical school, has been a Pongo mentor for the past 2 years, and is currently completing a qualitative study of the effects of Pongo Teen Writing on youth at the state psychiatric hospital. 


Shaun Anthony McMichael has been using the Pongo Method since 2007 to facilitate expression and connect with high needs, at-risk and trauma affected youth in residential and small classroom settings. For three years, he was Zine Instructor at University District Youth Center (UDYC)’s The Zine Project, an employment program that pays homeless youth to write and make art; he currently is an instructional assistant in an Emotional Behavioral Disorder classroom for Seattle Public Schools. Shaun’s fiction has appeared in a number of literary magazines, including The Chicago Tribune's Printer's Row.

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Adrienne Johanson Bentsen is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, providing psychotherapy to individuals and couples at her Seattle-based private practice. She received an MA in Psychology from Antioch University, Seattle, and a BS in Wildlife Biology with a Creative Writing minor from the University of New Hampshire.  She ran the Pongo Teen Poetry Project in Seattle's Juvenile Detention for 3 years and is currently supporting Pongo at by coaching poets all over the world through their writing process online.  


Michael G. Hickey received a BA from the University of Arizona, 1987, and an MFA from the University of Washington, 1992. He is a tenured writing professor and in 2009 was inaugurated as Seattle's eighth "Poet Populist." In 2012, he published a book of poetry and prose, “A Dress Walked By With A Woman Inside” and a novel, “Counterclockwise” by Northchester Press.  


Ann Teplick is a Seattle poet, playwright, prose writer, and teaching artist. She has been working with Pongo for fourteen years—two years as a volunteer in King County juvenile detention, followed by three years as the Project Lead, and currently, eight years as the Project Lead at Child Study Treatment Center (state psychiatric hospital). She also writes with youth at Seattle Children’s Hospital, through Writers in the Schools; and with Coyote Central, an arts program for middle-school students. She recently received funding from Artist Trust and Seattle Office of Arts and Culture to adapt her young adult novel, “Hey Baby, Wanna Dance?” into a full-length play, with upcoming staged readings in the winter and spring of 2014.


Vanessa Hooper was born and raised in Seattle. She has been working with Pongo for four years. She is the Project Leader of the poetry project at the juvenile detention center. Currently, she is finishing her Master's at U.W., where she is focusing on juvenile justice and alternatives to the incarceration of youth.


Jack McClellan, MD, is Medical Director of Child Study and Treatment Center, where Pongo has a writing project, and he is a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Two of his areas of research interest are studying the safety and usefulness of current antipsychotic medications and also searching for genetic causes of schizophrenia.