Young Writers & Leaders

Young Writers & Leaders (YWL) is a free, afterschool literary arts program for international multilingual high school students. We select 32 students a year through a competitive application and interview process to participate for nine months. The program helps improve these students’ writing skills, academic performance, social and emotional wellbeing, and increases their chances of future success.

YWL is offered in partnership with Portland, Deering, South Portland, Westbrook, and Casco Bay High Schools and has served teens recently arrived from El Salvador, Haiti, Burundi, Rwanda, DR Congo, Congo Republic, Djibouti, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Antigua, Kenya, Cameroon, Iran, Uganda, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, and Russia. Each participant visits The Telling Room for weekly afterschool sessions that provide:

Creative writing guidance & one-on-one writing coaches

Students engage with all of the genres of writing in this intensive program; from poetry, personal narrative, fiction, journalism and documentary. Staff and guest artists guide students in writing projects here in our studio and out in the city throughout the entire year. Also, each YWL student is paired with a writing coach from the community who works closely with him or her for three months to develop an original personal story to be professionally published by The Telling Room.

College preparation assistance

Each year students are offered help with their college essays by Telling Room staff and writing coaches. YWL students also go on a college visit with us each year; past visits include the University of Maine at Farmington, USM, and Bowdoin College. The TR also partners with USM's Admissions Office to offer YWL students an experience called "Dean for a Day" where they see the college application process transparently, and read real applications and essays.

Leadership experiences

Students share their work publicly on many occasions, whether it be at our studio for an audience of family and friends, or on stage at SPACE Gallery in front of 300 strangers. They engage in Q&A's with these audiences, having conversations with community members they might not normally meet. Getting your footing in a new culture can be incredibly hard work, and we give our YWL students as many chances as we can to find out about the community and meet with professionals in fields that they are interested in pursuing. YWL students have had private meetings with local fashion designer Jill McGowan, Glenn Jordan at the Portland Press Herald, a neurosurgeon at Maine Med, and more. Students receive a monthly stipend for their time and commitment to the program along with financial literacy programming with Claude Rwaganje.

YWL One Week Intensive Program

Each year we have over 100 Greater Portland area students apply to be a part of our nine-month long YWL program and we can only accept 32. Beginning in the summer of 2013, we began offering a one week summer intensive for 16 young writers so we could serve more students. Since then, we’ve expanded to offer these one week YWL Intensives during other school breaks as well. In the spring of 2018, we piloted our first YWL Intensive in Lewiston and we will add another in 2019 to serve an additional 32 students each year.

YWL Intensive participants are selected through a formal interview process and commit to five full days of creative writing and storytelling projects. Students work with writing coaches, go out into the community to find inspiration for their writing, and end the week with a public reading of their work.



In November, 2015, the Young Writers & Leaders program was presented a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award by the White House, the highest honor given to afterschool arts programs in the country. Iraqi student alum Ibrahim Shkara and his family traveled with us to the White House to accept the award from First Lady Michelle Obama.



We produced this anthology in 2015 to celebrate the Young Writers & Leaders program's National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from the White House. The thirty pieces of poetry and prose in A Season for Building Houses open a window onto today’s immigrant and refugee experience. Along their journeys to new homes in the United States, the teenage writers in this collection explore what it is to belong and to lose, to experience danger and safety, to remember and forget, and to build home after home. You can order a copy in our store.



THE WHOLE WORLD WAITING is our film that tackles the myths of America from the perspective of the immigrant and refugee youth in our Young Writers & Leaders program. Directed by David Meiklejohn and produced by Sonya Tomlinson. To purchase a copy of the film, please visit our store.

The Whole World Waiting from The Telling Room on Vimeo.