The Telling Room's Annual Writing Contest

Open to All Maine Writers, Ages 12-18
 

About the Contest

Our annual, themed, creative writing contest allows youth from all over the State of Maine to show off their writing chops! The contest runs from mid-December through January each year. A panel of professional writers selects one grand prize winner.

Writing Contest Rules

  • All submissions must be related to the annual theme (see below for more information on this year's theme).

  • Entrants must be from Maine, and be between the ages of 12 and 18.

  • Poems must be 40 lines or fewer, in any form. Fiction and nonfiction prose should be 750 words or fewer.

  • Submitting to our contest constitutes an agreement to be considered for publication in our annual anthology.

  • Flash fiction, short fiction, personal essay, persuasive or opinion essay, feature journalism, poetry, and other forms of creative writing are considered. 

Prizes

  • The grand prize winner will receive a $200 award.

  • The winning piece will be published in our spring anthology.

  • The winner will also be invited to share the prize-winning piece at BIG NIGHT, The Telling Room's year-end celebration, in front of a crowd of 300-400 people.

 

Congratulations to 2018-2019 Writing Contest winner, Pearl Benjamin!

Congratulations to Pearl Benjamin of The Watershed School for winning the 2018-2019 Writing Contest! We selected Pearl's story "Voice of Mother Trust" out of nearly 200 entries from all over the state. You can read her moving personal narrative in the Maine Sunday Telegram at the end of March. Her work will also be published in our upcoming anthology and she will receive a $200 cash prize at Big Night. 

Here is Pearl's winning story:

 

Voice of Mother Trust

I stand over the gate to the lambing pen, watching Elvez and her little brood as they tussle about. I follow the shaky movements of the two lambs as they totter between her legs. I won’t move until I see them both nurse. I will not take my eyes off this pen until I know they will survive the night.

Two days ago on the coldest night of the year, Elvez gave birth. A leggy cinnamon ewe and a creamy cotton ball of a ram dropped into the negative two-degree air. My mother and I rushed them inside to blow-dry every inch of their nearly hypothermic bodies as soon as they were born. We wrapped them in towels and little lamb coats and set them on a heating pad in their pen. I haven’t stopped worrying about them since.

Now, at least, no one is freezing to death. The polar vortex has passed over our coastal Maine town, and the animals can finally breathe air that hasn’t been stiffened by frost. Elvez’s lambs seem livelier than before, although they’re still stumbling about on soft limbs. I wish I could trust them. I wish I could leave them to be with their mother so that I could go home and sleep for the first time in days. I have homework to do tonight, but I don’t see myself leaving the barn any time soon.

Something is wrong here.

Elvez wants nothing to do with the white ram. She swivels around and lands her head on his ribs whenever he attempts to suckle. He is resilient, picking himself back up and resuming his relentless search for milk. I monitor them nervously, hoping that maybe she’ll change her mind and soften toward him, like she is toward his sister.

Last year’s lambing was a tough one for Elvez. She had twins then, too: a big cinnamon baby with thick bones and perky ears, and a white ewe with tragically twisted front legs. As much as the frail little ewe struggled and flopped about, she couldn’t stand on them. Elvez tried to stay with the lamb, nickered to her in her careful mothering voice, attempted to guide her to her feet, but she could not mend misshapen legs. Elvez slowly turned away from the doomed baby and focused on caring for the healthy one. After a tearful visit to the vet, my mother and I lost hope as well. Accepting that the crippled ewe wasn't meant for the world, we put her down the next day.

Does Elvez see that little ghost of a lamb in this white ram? Maybe she fears he won’t survive and wishes to save her milk for her ewe. Maybe she simply isn’t up to par as a mother.

Suddenly an idea bursts into my mind. I hurry inside the lambing pen and hoist the little ram into my arms. I look toward Elvez. She doesn’t seem to care.

I tap Elvez’s back and try to get her attention.

“Elvez! Look! I have your baby!”

She turns away and nuzzles the ewe. The ram wriggles in my arms. I begin to walk backward, out of the pen, clutching the lamb delicately. Elvez isn’t paying attention. Then, finally, the lamb calls out to his mother.

His voice is small and shrill in the evening air. It’s the same distress call the twisted white lamb made when she was abandoned. Elvez’s head whips up and over the gate. She’s heard him, and she responds. Her call back is deep and panicked, a sound of motherly reassurance and concern. That was all I needed to hear.

I bring the ram back into his mother’s pen and set him down on the pine shavings. He hobbles over to Elvez and goes for her udder across from his sister. Elvez stares off into the distance longingly and finally allows him to drink.

As I leave the pen I glance back and catch Elvez’s sorrowful eye. I gaze at her in gratitude and silently tell her I’m sorry. She dips her head to tend to her lambs. I brush my hair out of my eyes and take what feels like the first breath in hours. I can trust them now. They’ll be okay tonight.

 

Husna Quinn wins the 2017-18 Writing Contest!

 

Dressed in Red
Husna Quinn

The tapping of her scarlet
pin heels
fills the family room.
Her radiant red
dress illuminates
the faded gray shapes
of objects surrounding her.
My gaze
from just outside the door
follows her coal black eyes.
 
Glimpsing the art
attached to the wall
she halts her steps,
ambling toward a conflicting frame.
Unlike the others,
neat rows of traditional prints—
drummers, dancers, and artists—
the family portrait
scarcely hangs onto the wall.
The left side of her faint red lip
tugs upward
as she observes the smiling faces
trapped in the photograph.
 
Her aura breathes “vile stepmother”
but her attire screams “fleeting lover.”
As I watch from my post
in the black shadows,
my father saunters toward her
and embraces her pear-like body.
He pecks her red lips,
hugs her,
and rests his head on her neck.
It is a scene so natural and tender,
yet it has failed with my mother.
 
I close my eyes to them
and imagine my mother coming home
later that night.
With rehearsed countenance
she will imprison my father
in her arms.
She will hold him, and hold him,
long enough
for our validation of the embrace.
Detecting a lipstick blemish,
she will discreetly scold my father
advising him to be
more vigilant
in the children’s presence.
 
I open my eyes and see
the color drained from the room,
the portrait still crooked
on the wall.

 

When she wrote this poem, HUSNA QUINN was an eighteen-year-old senior at Deering High School and an Early Study Aspirations student at the University of Southern Maine. She worked with the Publishing Workshop at The Telling Room, her student government, and the National Honor Society. Husna was inspired to write this poem because she noticed that there is not enough literature that examines infidelity from children’s points of view although they experience it within their families.

 

Brooks Miller wins the 2016-17 writing contest!

We are thrilled to announce that Casco Bay High School student Brooks Miller is the winner of our 2016-17 statewide writing contest.  A panel of judges chose his poem out of over 200 entries from all corners of Maine. Brooks will be published in the May 2017 issue of Maine Magazine and will be awarded a $200 cash prize at our 2017 Big Night Event.

Thank you to the many talented writers who submitted stories and poems this year. We loved reading them and look forward to hearing from you again next winter!

Here is Brooks' winning poem:

 

Of a Conversation We Cannot Finish

Dear Grandfather,
Dear Professor of Biology,
Dear Ex-Wild-Life Society President,
My Christian Zealot,
Today, I pose a question:
You’re the smartest man I know
And despite all the knowledge you have,
You still pledge to a god who hates your grandson?

Your words are a bug in my ear
–No, not just a bug–
You speak, and bugs crawl on my skin.
There's no substance to your words
Like hot water without tea,
Hot water diluted with turned milk.

With anger behind your words
You tell me I look like a girl.
Stunned and embarrassed in the parking lot of a hotel,
My identity is in question.
You tell me to cut my hair,
Your words wasting air.

“Your generation has an interesting identity.”
“Your generation emasculated.”
“Your generation phone addicted.”
“Your generation social media inflicted.”
And yet we are the most active
Wielders of the Internet. How can you doubt us?

You and I are hatred, we are opinions,
Hatred and opinions that tear us from love.
Words like shots, we hurl at each other.
We are a dove with a bullet in its heart.

But as we drive to the wrong theater
Between our laughs and radio
I…

I hate small talk,
Little talk, the pointless talk,
The “how is the weather” talk,
The work break-room talk,
The worst kind of talk.

I like big talk.
Big talk, deep talk,
The "do you fear death?” talk,
The perfect silence talk,
The good talk.

I’m sorry but we need an intervention.
This has gone on too long and we need to talk.

 

 

Listen to Siri Pierce, our 2015-16 grand prize winner!

Siri Pierce, Portland - "Wings"

 

Listen to Lizzy Lemieux, our 2014-15 grand prize winner!

Lizzy Lemieux, Gorham - "The Presumpscot Baptism of a Jewish Girl: After Hanel Baveja"

 

Listen to the winners of the 2013-14 contest read their work:

Kaitlyn Knight, Rome - "I Am Not Wild"

Alicia Thurston, Topsham - "Astriferous"

 

Listen to the winners of the 2012-13 contest read their work:

Meghan Lane, Rockport - "Prelude in A Minor"

Mary McColley, Berwick - "Lapti"