In 1988, he moved with his wife Paula to Nevada City, California, where they designed and directed an innovative summer camp program for young people called Camp ImaginAction. Inspired by this experience, they went on to create the Raven Radio Theater, which explored the creative use of radio plays with young people and organizations. In 1992, the Raven Radio Theater was awarded a major grant by the Office of the California Superintendent of Public Instruction to design, produce, and disseminate an innovative tobacco-use prevention radio drama curriculum to fifth grade students throughout California. Two years later, the McHughs received funding from the United States Justice Department to produce a radio drama curriculum exploring the history and responsibilities of citizenship in today's world.
In the year 2000, Mr. McHugh founded the American Family Stories Project and began traveling around the country recording people telling their family stories. These stories were later featured on a public radio series called The Telling Takes Us Home, which aired on numerous public radio stations and on the international English-language service of Voice of America. He has produced audio documentaries for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Judicial Counsel of California, Washington State Office of Public Defense, National Legal Aid and Defenders Association, Washington State Association of School Administrators, and the California School Library Association.
Joe McHugh has lectured and performed at conferences, universities, libraries, museums, and festivals throughout the United States, as well as in Scotland, Ireland, England, and Italy. He has published two collections of folktales and humor, an illustrated children's book about the early days of aviation, and a novel titled Kilowatt, a political-science thriller about the energy industry and the nature of time. His memoir Coins in the Ashes, a Family Story of Grief, Gratitude, and Grace chronicles his twelve-year quest to find the family of an African-American woman named Helen who cared for him when he was a young child and who helped his family survive a profound tragedy. His book Slaying the Gorgon, the Rise of the Storytelling Industrial Complex explores how we tell stories in the modern age given the dynamic and transforming influence of new technologies. He lives with his family in Olympia, Washington.
Joe McHugh began telling stories professionally in 1978 when he was hired to direct a series of ethnic festivals for Orange County, New York. He went on to serve as the founding director of the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia, where he also hosted a weekly segment on Appalachian folkways for West Virginia Public Television. He has been a consultant for numerous non-profit organizations and government agencies and has served as an artist-in-residence for the National Endowment for the Arts, the West Virginia Department of Culture and History, the Pennsylvania Arts Commission, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.