Telling Room Annual Report


2019-2020 Telling Room Annual Report
July 1, 2019 - June 30, 2020


Dear Friends,


This past year saw tectonic shifts in our world; you'll see that reflected in this report. You'll also see how The Telling Room adapted to this changing landscape, how our students rose to meet the moment, and how we all continue to forge ahead together.

Artists dare us to imagine a bold, new future: that's why they are so often on the frontlines of social change. It is the storytellers among us—the poets, the painters, the filmmakers, the actors, the sculptors, the graffiti artists, the musicians, the dancers—who are able to give voice to history as it unfolds. Their works of art have the power to transform our collective consciousness, as we have seen with vital intensity this spring and summer as poets and writers joined protests around the world, to share the names of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Jacob Blake, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others, each name a story, a life. Telling and retelling these stories, and thousands like them, creates the cultural consciousness our society needs to face and challenge systemic racism.

At The Telling Room, we believe that creating space for youth to listen, share, and have their stories heard helps build this future.

The Telling Room is a place that foregrounds self-expression, where kids can write freely about subjects that matter to them, be that their home state of Maine or their country of origin; a myth from long ago or a pressing issue of today. Students express their joy, while others process grief or do both at once. Some explore their relationships with fellow humans and the land we inhabit. We are constantly inspired by these stories and listen to them with rapt attention.

Listening is an invitation to the possibility of change, and we invite you in this year of years to listen, along with us especially to the many Black and Brown voices across the world that need to be amplified, heard, and shared—including newer voices of the poets and storytellers in The Voice of a Pride series. And as our ongoing racial equity work evolves, we want our community of students, families, educators, volunteers, and partners to know: We will keep listening and learning and changing. We will work daily to be a more actively anti-racist organization. Through stories, classes, trainings, and more, we will take action to help bring about societal transformation and a future rooted in racial justice.

With hope and gratitude,
The Telling Room Board and Staff


Who We Are

The Telling Room is a nonprofit literary arts education organization in Portland, Maine. Our mission is to empower youth through writing and to share their voices with the world. Focused on young writers ages 6 to 18, we build confidence, strengthen literacy skills, and provide real audiences for our students’ stories through the provision of free creative writing, literacy, and arts programs for over 3,700 Maine youth each year. Since our founding in 2004, we have served over 30,000 students from all over the state, published 17 major anthologies of student work with over 12,000 books in print, and grown into an award-winning nonprofit organization. We have been recognized for our achievements through awards and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Maine Association of Nonprofits, the Maine Arts Commission, and the Maine Department of Education’s Imagination Intensive Communities program, among many others.

We work with students who may be reluctant to write as well as those who already identify themselves as writers, including: children and young adults who are a part of Maine’s growing community of immigrants and refugees, those with emotional and behavioral challenges, students struggling in mainstream classrooms, homeschoolers enthusiastic to join a creative community, LGBTQIA+ students, incarcerated and other under-resourced youth, and passionate young writers who benefit from support beyond what their schools are able to provide.


Our Programs (in a normal year...most are now virtual throughout the COVID-19 pandemic!)

All core programs at The Telling Room are 100% free to students and their families, ensuring that the students who need our services most – the students who are least likely to have a voice in the community – can participate. Our fun, innovative writing programs are the heart of our organization.

Through skilled, creative, and resourceful program delivery, we minimize overhead and maximize impact.

Each year, our programs are linked by a new theme, and the best student writing from the year is published in a major Anthology released every spring at a community event attended by hundreds of supporters.

We run literary Field Trips for language arts classes that bring students from all over Maine to our Old Port writing center for a morning of enrichment.

We visit schools to teach multi-week In School Residencies in which Telling Room writing teachers and community volunteers work in a local classroom to publish an original chapbook.

From June to August, we offer a variety of Summer Camps for writers of all ages and interests.

We teach an annual nine-month-long writing and leadership program for immigrant, refugee, and first generation youth called Young Writers & Leaders.

In our Young Emerging Authors program, we host four students, selected through a rigorous application process, to write an entire book with us in a single calendar year.

Our Publishing Workshop invites current students and alums to learn publishing skills alongside professional editors and designers during the editorial and production processes of Telling Room book assembly.

We host weekly community Writers Block afternoons that give burgeoning writers time to work on their projects. Each session offers solo writing time, group work, and featured workshops with local artists and writers.

We developed Second Story in 2018-19. This new program focuses on strengthening writing and leadership skills while incorporating college readiness and creative expression. Social justice and community-building components are woven into both models. 

And, at the end of the 2019-20 program year in June 2020, we were on the verge of launching SWARM! (Student Writers and Readers Meet!) our new statewide network of virtual youth writing groups developed in response to 2020’s sudden online learning needs.

Did you know? You can watch and listen to many student stories, poems, essays, and interviews on our media channels:





2019-2020 Programs at a Glance







Field Trips: 24 total programs, 72 program hours, 422 students served

Workshops: 17 total programs, 147 program hours, 443 students served

School-based Residencies: 16 total programs, 215 program hours, 263 students served 

Writers Block: 2 total programs, 90 program hours, 58 students served

Young Writers & Leaders: 3 total programs, 120 programs hours, 37 students served

Publishing Workshop: 2 total programs, 34 program hours, 15 students served

Young Emerging Authors: 1 total program, 75 program hours, 4 students served

Second Story: 2 total programs, 30 program hours, 10 students served

Summer Camps: 14 sessions, 460 program hours, 177 students served

*We also ran 30 special events and programs for our students outside of regular program hours.


Our students came from:

Cape Elizabeth
Cliff Island
Cow Island
Cumberland Foreside

Long Island
New Gloucester
South Portland


We offered services to these students with the help of the following collaborators:

Biddeford Intermediate School
Brown Elementary School
Casco Bay CAN
Casco Bay High School
Cliff Island Public Library
Dayton Consolidated School
Deering High School
Dexter Regional High School
Dyer Elementary School
East End Community School
Falmouth Middle School
Freeport Middle School
Gorham High School
Gray-New Gloucester High School
Greely High School
Harpswell Coastal Academy
Hurricane Island Outward Bound School
Ironwood School
Kaler Elementary School
Lincolnville Central School
Maine Multicultural Center
Maine Virtual Academy
Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance
Manchester School
Marcia Buker Elementary School
Mast Landing School
Memorial Middle School
Merrill Memorial Library
Mt. Ararat Middle School
Multilingual & Multicultural Center
Portland High School
Portland Museum of Art
Portland Public Library
Portland Public Schools
Ripple Effect
Shapleigh Middle School
Skidompha Library
Skillin Elementary School
Small Elementary School
South Portland School Department
SPACE Gallery
The Farnsworth Art Museum
The Portland Phoenix
UNE Nonprofit Networking Fair
University of Southern Maine
Village Elementary School
Vinalhaven School
Westbrook High School
York High School



The Anthology Project: See Beyond

We published our 14th annual anthology of student writing, See Beyond, featuring the best writing to come out of all of the projects listed above—this year, with the organizing theme of 20/20. With hundreds of deserving pieces to choose from, our Publishing Workshop crew of students, volunteers, and staff had to work hard to choose just 27!

The Telling Room’s latest anthology pays tribute to those who sacrifice for others every day, in big and small ways. For the essential workers—healthcare workers, EMTs, construction crews, grocery store clerks, delivery drivers. And for the teachers, parents, and volunteers. The authors in this literary anthology courageously share some of their innermost thoughts and feelings with us, whether the relief of moving and beginning a better life, or the common struggle of not knowing what to write and suddenly being struck by an idea.

The stories and poems in See Beyond represent the peaks and valleys, the light and the dark, and the past and the future, and all focus in on specific scenarios that offer a new way of seeing, or a clearer 20/20 vision. Family members recovering from addiction. A teen’s worry for our worsening climate. A mother’s library-like mind. Readers are able to step into the shoes of a young woman determined to use her voice for good and into the lens of a compassionate flashlight.

The year 2020 proved to be wildly unpredictable. As this book went to print, we were still in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. It is uncanny that the theme we chose for our writing this past year was “20/20,” given how the year has unfolded. When we chose this theme, it wasn’t even cold and flu season yet in Maine, and we expected stories about Maine’s 200th anniversary of statehood (we got a few), or what it would mean to be part of a new decade (we got tons), or what we see clearly in hindsight or with 20/20 vision (we got most).

Writing has the remarkable ability of bringing people together, and each story and poem here provides a way to connect through shared hopes and dreams, as well as through fear and personal struggle. We hope these stories and poems provide you with the inspiration you need to see beyond 2020, while offering a refuge from the uncertainty and change that may yet be occurring worldwide.    —adapted from the Introduction by The Telling Room Publishing Workshop


Program Highlights



We had a terrific time with all our field trip groups. One highlight was in November when we hosted a field trip in our Portland writing center for Sarah Michaud’s 7th grade classroom from Lincolnville Central School (see photo to the right). Teaching Artists Laura Poppick and Ashley Colley lead students through writing and photography workshops, including a workshop on communicating emotion through body language. Big thanks to The Farnsworth Art Museum for sponsoring the field trip, which was a part of their Stories of the Land and its People yearlong project with Midcoast schools.

Another highlight was hosting all the South Portland 4th graders from all five schools for the 8th consecutive year!



It's hard to only pick a few highlights because one of the great things about workshops is that they often give our teaching artists a creative playground to do fun exercises that are very different from what students might normally be exposed to in their regular curriculum. Our teaching artists Amy Raina & Amy Kimball provided coaching to CC Davies Robinson’s Casco Bay High School seniors via Zoom for their senior culminating performance called Final Word, a speech given in front of the whole school in which seniors share something important to them. Hear What Kelly Nibayuhahe has to say about working with Amy K for her Final Word project here:

Memorial Middle School is lucky enough to have a new media arts teacher, and we helped her launch a new class. Our teaching artists Jenny O’Connell and Laura Poppick made use of their journalism backgrounds and helped this group of students get excited about storytelling.

Our Mast Landing School poetry workshop wrapped up its final virtual session in early May—they made a whole podcast! It features poems written by all 16 students and an introduction that was recorded (from Maryland!) by Telling Room intern Sam Milligan and co-produced by Mast landing teacher Chelsea Cekutis. It’s a perfect listen anytime. We couldn’t be more proud of these young writers (and podcasters!) Listen to the podcast here:



Residencies continued their trend of being highly in demand - we were booked for this entire year by the end of spring 2019—though, sadly, were unable to carry out several that were slated for the spring of 2020, due to the pandemic. Some highlights include the Marcia Buker School, Harpswell Coastal Academy, and Vinalhaven School--our first island Residency!

We returned to Marcia Buker Elementary School in Richmond for the fourth consecutive year, and that school, and that community, continue to cement a place in our hearts. The school has embraced us so thoroughly that we are now considered one of their fourth and fifth grade units, and one of the teachers has affectionately shortened our name to “The Room.” He said of our work this year: “The TR instructors were very effective delivering the writing ideas and concepts to my students. Their activities were engaging and fun. Your folks did a great job of individualizing instruction for some of my more needy students. The curriculum your staff was working with seemed to match up very well with the RSU 2 learning targets. Each session I took notes of things that I could beg, borrow, and steal from the presentation. I was impressed with how your staff connected with some particularly reluctant writers that were in my class. These kids were very disappointed when the sessions ended. Thanks again for your efforts.” As you can see from the picture to the right, the fifth graders are eager for us to follow them to the middle school next year!

We worked with Harpswell Coastal Academy a few years in a row recently, but had taken two years off. Needless to say, we were excited to get back there this past year. Many of the students at the school have experienced trauma in and out of school. Our veteran teaching artist crew and a group of volunteers worked hard to engage everyone while respecting their space and process. The classroom teacher said: “I LOVED working with both Meredith and Jenny.  Both very dynamic educators, in different ways. Both were so good at meeting students where they were in any given moment, and able to be flexible enough to meet their ever-shifting needs. From the get-go they established a learning environment that felt safe, inclusive and welcoming. The curriculum integrated with my grade level standards and inspired me too. I absolutely learned from the lessons I saw. Most of all, I enjoyed the mentor texts and will use them in the future....A huge time saver for an overworked teacher! I saw growth from all my students. Thanks for this transformative collaboration...for me and for the students.”

The ferry schedule to Vinalhaven worked out for us to stay for about an hour and a half each visit, so we got some quality time with the 4th and 5th graders at this wonderful school. Our Midcoast teaching artist team introduced these budding authors to flash fiction and got their imaginations buzzing. We ended the final session with a knighting ceremony for all the new authors. The new authors were published in the group chapbook “Planet Vinalhaven,” a collection of stories that explore everything from aliens, to dark forces to… dogs! The writers were to officially launch their book on March 26th with a special party on Vinalhaven with teachers, family, and proud members of the Telling Room staff—but sadly that could not happen. Even though this was the outcome—and it was tough—we are thrilled to continue expanding our programs throughout the Midcoast with Vinalhaven. And after some delays due to a mail shut down to the island we (safely!) delivered their chapbook!

We had another repeat residency at Shapleigh School! And they do something unique which we love: they’ve integrated us into the curriculum in a way that ensures that every kid works with us at least once at some point between 4th and 8th grade. Each year we see two groups of twenty that arrive from various classes for this special opportunity. We try to give them something new and exciting each year. This year we tackled a new genre - creative nonfiction. Here, a student receives a special (safe!) delivery after COVID-19 forced many schools and organizations like ours to pause or shut down—HER BOOK!



WRITERS BLOCK (spring sessions were interupted due to COVID-19 and will be back in fall 2021)

Word Play:

Despite having one of our smallest groups so far, we had a tremendously successful semester! We had eight students coming from seven different schools, with three returning Writes Block alumni and three students completely new to The Telling Room. We had our youngest writers so far (age 6.75) who was wonderful and fit right in. Two active andhelpful volunteers, Kate Moon and Nan Hadden, rounded out the group. We included quite a bit of drawing, painting, and active embodied exercises to help with story generation and development. By the end, each student had quite a few entries/stories, and had no problem picking one to share during our last sharing session, a public performance in duo with the Story Sleuths.

Story Sleuths:

Story Sleuths was composed of fifteen students between the ages of 10-13—a mix of returners and newcomers to The Telling Room—who were looking for various creative ways into the writing process. Together with three adult volunteers, we explored sensory and imaginative writing through generative exercises, writing-based games, and forays into the outside world. We embarked on two field trips: a Word Walk around Portland, and a trip to the Portland Public Library to see an art exhibit on folklore. Sessions at The Telling Room consisted of a combination of toolbox time, a large chunk of focused writing time, and a Writer's Seat session where each student shared a longer excerpt of their work and received questions, feedback, and positive encouragement. At the end of the semester, students chose an excerpt to revise and share at a public reading for their families.

Works in Progress:

Works in Progress was composed of six high-school aged students who are working on developing a larger body of work—four who returned after participating in prior sessions, and two who are new to The Telling Room. We practiced writing complex characters, vivid settings, and descriptive writing, and honed tools such as voice and tone-setting. Each student had the opportunity to participate in the Writer's Seat twice, and have their writing workshopped by their peers, two professional nonfiction writers, and an undergraduate teaching intern from Bowdoin. At the end of the semester, students chose an excerpt to revise and share at a public reading for their families.



We had another amazing class of YWL students this year! We started the year getting to know each other and writing about cultural identity and what each student brings to the group from their varied backgrounds in Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Greece, Iraq, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, and the U.S. These 29 students presented their original poems in December, responding to the prompt "What is something you didn't see coming?" Then they worked with their mentors/writing coaches writing their personal narratives for eight weeks, wrapping up just as we made the decision to continue YWL remotely and close our space. For the last three months of the program, students adjusted to online learning, wrote and shared and talked about the local and national events surrounding racial injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement, worked together to rehearse and record their personal narratives, and produced their group chapbook, The Voice of a Lion. A live virtual reading featuring three students was presented in partnership with the Portland Public Library in July 2020, and once again, several YWL pieces were accepted for The Telling Room's Annual Anthology. Another highlight: visits from memoirist Marpheen Chann and poet Samaa Abdurraqib!

Here's what some YWL students had to say about the year:

“It really helped me love writing and now I journal every day. I didn't expect to feel strongly about writing. Now I use writing to navigate my thoughts and understand them. For me, the program was life changing. I can’t imagine a time where I was not journaling. Now I use writing as a form of activism.”

"Every week YWL would be the highlight of my week. The Telling Room was a place where I can take my mind off school and focus on what I liked the most: writing. I learned how to be confident with my voice and to use my presence for my advantage. I also enjoyed working with my personal coach. Thank you for an amazing year!"

 “The Telling Room created such a supportive space for me. I got to tell my story and be my most authentic self. I’ve become more in tune with myself and the writing process. I never thought I was good at writing or that my writing was worth sharing. I realized I was just reading my work to the wrong audience. I never realized how vulnerable you have to be to write. You have to put a piece of yourself out there for people to judge, empathize with, and sympathize with. It was nerve wracking to read my piece aloud because I’m shy and I never dreamed about it. It's very useful and it empowered me and gave me a voice I never knew I had.”

We also provided a one-week YWL Intensive to 8 teens in the Greater Portland area in July 2019 which culminated in a final performance for an audience of over 30 people including family, friends, teachers, and community members. Another fantastic year all around!



In the fall semester, our students spent time learning what it is to be a working writer. We welcomed writers Richard Russo, Jaed Coffin, and Patty Hille Dodd for a roundtable discussion about writing, spent a session with literary agent Iris Blasi, explored galleys with Print: A Bookstore owner Emily Russo, and learned about the submissions process with advice from poet and editor Megan Grumbling. All the while, each student was working on writing and editing their own piece of writing for publication. On our last session, everyone submitted their original writing to the publications of their choosing. Publishing Workshop students were also part of a Maine Sunday Telegram Arts cover story in November 2019 about the Telling Room celebrating 15 years!

In the spring semester, Publishing Workshop students worked to assemble, edit, and produce this year’s anthology “best of” student work from all programs, See Beyond. Though COVID-19 affected the publishing process this year and the editors were unable to meet with authors in person, they felt that the connection with the authors through reading their thoughtful pieces persisted. Here’s an excerpt from the Publishing Workshop editors from the Introduction to See Beyond:

Today’s developments are making us all realize the value in human connections, which we are seeing is inspiring new writing and providing supportive communities in which to share it. The current situation with COVID-19 has meant huge adjustments for us all, and the experience is likely to continue to inspire more remarkable writing, now and hundreds of years from now, as subsequent generations look back to us to see how we lived.



Young Emerging Authors had another successful year—the young writers produced a contemporary YA novel, a collection of poetry, a collection of short stories, and a dystopian thriller. The biggest challenge for this year's Young Emerging Authors is probably obvious: No one anticipated having to go remote starting in mid-March, but we have to say that the authors and mentors alike were unwavering in their commitment to the program and each other, and we needed it! The YEA students and lead teacher continued to meet via Google Hangout biweekly. Seeing each other during this time was good for their hearts and souls as well as for their writing, as they were pushing hard toward their final manuscripts. Mentors continued meeting with YEA students via Zoom, email, and phone regularly and as needed until early May.

Every young author delivered a very strong manuscript that showed her work and boosted her confidence greatly as we moved into production. Once we got to thinking about covers, we had started to adjust to the new "normal" and everyone really enjoyed shifting gears to thinking about their books as a physical object in the world. Another first this year: ebooks! This is a hugely exciting development that will expand readership and bring the price-point down, making the titles more accessible from an equity standpoint. The ebooks are available at, and through them at national retailers, such as Apple Books and Barnes & Noble, and in public libraries. More than ever, we had fellows intimately involved in their own marketing and promotion plans, filling out author questionnaires crafted by our publishing intern, Bobbie, who works in book marketing professionally, and reaching out to their schools, libraries, local bookstores, and media with their "sell sheets" and "elevator pitches." Check out our 2019-20 titles, available through our amazing community partner, Print: A Bookstore!

Here’s what two Young Emerging Authors had to say about the experience:

“I love the people involved in the Telling Room, it’s a really warm and open community. I feel that this program has challenged me in good ways, my technical writing skills are better and my ability to get my hands dirty with editing work. I have enjoyed finding a place with other writers that are supportive but aren’t afraid to give really constructive feedback.”

“My favorite part about being in the Young Emerging Authors program is that I’ve gotten an amazing chance to share my voice and to bolster my writing confidence.”


Si Ting Chen: Founders Prize Winner

Congratulations to Si Ting Chen, our 2020 Founders Prize recipient. Si Ting Chen is a sophomore at Portland High School. She went back to visit her hometown in China in the summer of 2018; after coming back to the States, it was clear that there were some unresolved issues she needed to address. She did so in this reflective and witty story, "The Way Life Intertwines," which she wrote as a student in this year's Young Wrriters & Leaders program. Si Ting likes to spend her time drawing, with a chipped cup of tea next to her while listening to tunes, and when she isn’t doing that, she’s probably spending time laughing with her family and friends.

Thanks to author Phuc Tran who co-presented The Living Room Series alongside Si Ting, writing coach Jen Swanda who spent eight weeks working with Si Ting on this incredible personal narrative, Si Ting's BFF and fellow Young Writers and Leaders student Amira Doale, and founder Susan Conley for making appearances in this congratulatory video:

To see Si Ting read an excerpt of her prize-winning story, visit:

Here is the opening of her story, “The Way Life Intertwines:”

The dirty gym track that we walk on is musty, the familiarity of the sound of my empty footsteps as I walk echoes, there’s nothing to fill my mind. No one notices. A voice appears in the silence and their echoing footsteps join mine, sparking up conversation. He introduces himself but I already know him—we both know that we are in the same class and he merely asks me about homework that he missed. We continue speaking, talking about middle schools and then he asks that question that I think I’ve always been asked by everyone I’ve almost ever talked to.

“Where are you from?”

I say, “From King.”

“No, no, like where are you from?”

“Oh, I’m from China.”

We talk for a bit more but like always, the conversation trails off from there. Again, my footsteps are only my own. The question leaves me to crawl back up into the depths of certain memories that I haven’t thought back to in years.

Suddenly, I’m back in a concrete crowded restaurant in China, the room filled with a familiar foreign language that has filled the crevices of my childhood. In the loud sounds, I clearly hear,

“Was she born here in Taishan, or the States?” The voice of my father answers, my head turning to find the source of their conversation.

“She was born here, but it’s been a long time.”

I know where I am, and indeed, he is right. The question that follows me around more than my own shadow. The one that forms the pit in my stomach and the one that makes me choke up on my own words like a vice that wants me to keep these secrets in my mind. Everyone has stayed, those family members who had each other growing up, when we were the only ones who had ever left. Those who, no matter how hard I try, I know I’ll never fit in with, I am not of the same quality as them. I was born here, my roots are here too, am I that different from you? I grew up in the States, sure, but those stares and words that I always saw and always heard there are hard to forget. I thought that I could blend in here, but there are things that never change. Is there a place that I really belong? Is there a place where I’m not the only one who has to imagine what it is like, not having to be the one looking in?



In early June, we launched The Voice of a Pride. Here is how we introduced it:

The Telling Room has always believed in sharing youth voices and providing a platform for young people to express the ways they are experiencing the world through their unfiltered lens. Sometimes that’s been in the form of a live audience. Often, it’s through a tangible book that our students, or anyone, can hold in their hands. Those results take gathering together and weeks of time for preparation, neither of which we feel we can afford at this moment.

Our Black and Brown students have been telling us how they’re feeling, right now. In response, we’ve collaborated with our students to turn over our most visible current platforms, our social media, and monthly newsletter, to them in a new online, ongoing series called The Voice of a Pride. We feel these are the most vital voices to hear at this moment in time. Through upheaval or calm, we believe in the power of human connection and the relatability and resolve that can come from it.

Though this series will mostly feature current writings, Benedita Zalabantu’s poem “Drop of Melanin and Blood” from 2018 opened it.

The second piece in the series is titled “Crimson,” which was written by 2019-20 Young Writers & Leaders student and See Beyond author Fiona Stawarz.

Read the whole series here:



Youth Publishing Spotlight


The Telling Room is a leader in Youth Publishing, an emerging niche of the publishing industry and a unique and inspiring model in the field of literary arts education and creative youth development. Through our first 15 years of youth publishing we published over 3,000 authors, and more than 30,000 Telling Room books are in circulation. We have pioneered several innovative publication projects, and also reach youth through our online publication engine, “Stories,” which serves writers aged 6-18 from around the world, a statewide writing contest, and a literary magazine, for teens by teens. Our publications and events support The Telling Room's suite of youth writing and publishing  programs and sends youth voices out to audiences across Maine, the U.S., and around the world.


Intorducing a NEW live reading series: 

Coming to you live, from our living rooms to yours, The Telling Room launched a virtual streaming series, in which Telling Room authors and their program mentor(s) paired up to read selected works and converse about artistic inspiration, youth publishing, and living as writers right now. Audience members (students welcome!) could submit questions to the pair via chat. First up, poet Amanda Dettmann, Young Emerging Authors alumna and author of Untranslatable Honeyed Bruises was joined by her mentor, poet and librettist Megan Grumbling. Next up was Maddie Curtis, Young Emerging Authors alumna and author of Yellow Apocalypse, in conversation with her mentor Ron Currie Jr.⁠ Then we had a live reading with Young Emerging Authors alumna and author of The Stars Are the Same Everywhere Maryam Abdullah and her mentor and Telling Room Lead Teacher Kathryn Williams. After that, we had author and director Henry Spritz, Young Emerging Authors alumnus and author of The Road to Terrencefield, joined by his mentor, director Sean Mewshaw. Closing out the series (for now!) were authors Si Ting Chen and Phuc Tran. Si Ting's writing appears in The Telling Room's Young Writers & Leaders book The Voice of a Lion and in the "Best of 2020" anthology See Beyond and Phuc's debut memoir Sigh, Gone was published in April 2020 to rave reviews. What a way to end an incredible series of engaging and lively events! 


Books To Homes

We provided three Telling Room books—Little Bird's Flock, Our Many Stories, and The Stars Are the Same Everywhere—to 600 students in the Portland Public Schools during the summer. These Telling Room books were written by a diverse group of multicultural students from the Greater Portland area.

The "Books to Homes" project serves young readers by getting high-interest, culturally responsive books safely into their homes and hands during this unprecedented time. Many of these students have limited access to books and educational resources at home, or do not have adequate technology and have difficulty accessing remote learning opportunities. All Portland Public School students deserve the opportunity to learn, dream, and grow during remote learning. We were thrilled to be a part of this initiative!


A New Land 

Since 2004, The Telling Room has been nurturing the voices and publishing the work of some of today's most talented and inspiring young poets and writers. This year, we began work on a new special book: our first poetry anthology! Editors met to collect, select, and begin to produce A New Land, which presents 30 groundbreaking poems from The Telling Room's first 15 years (published in September of 2020).The poems here offer a stunning exploration of coming of age and a triumphant chorus of American youth, whose voices make up their "new land" and also reckon with the social issues that impact us all.

In her Introduction, rising star and Presidential Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman calls A New Land “a collection of youth poetry that is both brave and radiant.”



The Financial Story



Huge thanks to the generous individual, corporate, and foundation donors who supported us this past year.


See our full donor list here


Our 2019-20 Team



Celine Kuhn, Executive Director
Peyton Black, Program & Volunteer Manager
Shima Kabirigi, Young Writers and Leaders Teaching Artist 
Blaire Knight-Graves, Communications Manager
Clare LaVergne, Publications Manager
Moon Machar, Young Writers and Leaders Teaching Artist 
Molly McGrath, Publications Director 
Amy Raina, Teaching Artist / Book Designer
Rachele Ryan, Operations & Development Coordinator
Sarah Schneider, Development Director
Sonya Tomlinson, Young Writers and Leaders Program Lead
Nick Whiston, Programs Director
Marjolaine Whittlesey, Lead Teacher
Kathryn Williams, Lead Teacher
Marlin Pamba, Multilingual AmeriCorp VISTA
Interns: Bobbie Bensur, Sam Milligan, Jenna Moen





Tim Schneider
General Counsel and Principal Consultant
Tilson Technology Management

Vice President
Anya Endsley
Associate, Private Clients Group 

Donna Simonetti

Beth Stickney
Executive Director
Maine Business Immigration Coalition

Ekhlas Ahmed
The Telling Room Alumna
Westbrook High School

Chris Bicknell
Executive Director
New Beginnings Inc.

Chelsea H. B. DeLorme

Dan Edwards
Edwards Creative

Rob Gould
Director of Public Relations

Alisan Kavookjian

Richard Russo

Kate Swan Malin
Sassy Media Group

Peg Smith
Pierce Atwood

Sean Tabb
Senior Marketing Manager
L.L. Bean



Marketing and Development Committee
Chelsea H. B. DeLorme, Chair, Board Member
Celine Kuhn, Executive Director
Rachele Ryan, Staff
Sarah Schneider, Staff
Peg Smith, Board Member
Ruth Story, Community Member
Blaire Knight-Graves, Staff
Emma Wilson, Community Member
Matt Stiker, Community Member
Laura Shen, Community Member
Heather Shields, Community Member

Finance Committee
Celine Kuhn, Executive Director
Rachele Ryan, Staff
Sarah Schneider, Staff
Tim Schneider, Board Vice President
Donna Simonetti, Chair, Board Member
Sean Tabb, Board Member
Bob Zagar, Community Member
Pamela Wheeler, Community Member
Ruth Charron, Community Member

Show & Tell Committee
Alisan Kavookjian, Co-Chair, Board Member
Kate Malin, Co-Chair, Board Member
Peyton Black, Staff
Susan Conley, Writer
Rob Gould, Board Member
Ann Hayes, Community Member
Lily King, Writer
Celine Kuhn, Executive Director
Katie Magoun, Community Member
Sean Mewshaw, Director
Richard Russo, Board Member
Rachele Ryan, Staff
Sarah Schneider, Staff
Sonya Tomlinson, Staff
Blaire Knight-Graves, Staff
Sarah Schecter, Community Member
Jenna Moen, Community Member

Governance Committee
Dan Edwards, Chair, Board Member
Tim Schneider, Board President
Celine Kuhn, Executive Director
Catherine Richards, Community Member
Rachel Stettler, Community Member

Human Resources Committee
Beth Stickney, Chair, Board Member
Chris Bicknell, Board Member
Jennifer Pelletier, Community Member
Celine Kuhn, Executive Director

Super Famous Writers Committee
Susan Conley, Writer
Lily King, Writer
Celine Kuhn, Executive Director

Molly McGrath, Staff
Clare LaVerne, Staff
Kathryn Williams, Staff
Amy Raina, Staff
Anja Hanson, Former Board Member
Catherine Fisher, Former Board Member
Sean Tabb, Board
Donna Simonetti, Board
Cameron Jury, Telling Room Ambassador
Evgeniya Dame, Designer, Intern
Ashley Halsey, Designer, Contractor
Jenny Ibsen, Artist, Volunteer
Melissa Kim, Editor, Volunteer
Jane Armstrong, PPS Teacher/Administrator
Edite Kroll, Literary Agent
Ann Hayes, Scholastic VP

Program Evaluation 
Dr. Caroline Shanti, USM School of Social Work
Elora Way, Data Innovation Project
Daniel Cassidy, Research Assistant
Peyton Black, Staff
Nick Whiston, Staff

Program Development (Task Force)
Melea Nalli, Community Member
Jeff Thaler, Community Member
Alison Isara, Student
Mona Abdelkader, Student
Celine Kuhn, Executive Director
Marjolaine Whittlesey, Staff
Anja Hanson, Former Board Member
Liam Fay-LeBlanc, Student
Anya Endsley, Board
Beth Stickney, Board


How to Support The Telling Room

Donating to The Telling Room is about believing in our students.

The Telling Room began as a grassroots group of volunteer writers and educators fueled by a belief in the power of the written word to change our community for the better. Your belief and financial support makes it possible for The Telling Room to be what it is today: a thriving nonprofit organization with a paid staff of twelve, three interns, a volunteer teaching artist in residence, and 250 volunteers serving over 4,000 students each year. We are a registered 501(c)(3) organization, so all donations are tax deductible.

Tax ID # / EIN: 74-3136956