Young Writers & Leaders


Young Writers and Leaders is a free, nine-month afterschool literary arts education program exclusively for high school students with international and multicultural backgrounds. We select 32 students a year through a competitive application and interview process to participate for nine months. During that time students will:

• Explore poetry, spoken word, personal narrative, and documentary storytelling
• Work one-on-one with a writing coach
• Read their writing in front of a live audience
• Become a published author in a book
• Get paid to participate
• Make friends and have fun!


YWL first piloted in 2010. Since then, the program has published 11 anthologies and served over 325 teens from 46 unique countries:  Afghanistan, Angola, Antigua, Azerbaijan, Burundi, Cameroon, China, Congo, Cote D'Ivoire, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Gabon, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Jordan , Kenya, Kurdistan, Kuwait, Libya, Liberia, Mexico, Netherlands, Pakistan, Rwanda, Russia, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda, USA, Vietnam, and Zambia. Alums of this program have had the opportunity to meet and and share their writing with legends like Representative John Lewis and author Chimamanda Adichie.

National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award

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.


Each participant visits the Telling Room weekly for 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 them 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 Portand Museum of Art's Bernard Osher Auditorium 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. Students receive a monthly stipend for their time and commitment to the program along with financial literacy programming.

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. Since 2016, we've expanded our geographic reach beyond Greater Portland to South Portland, Westbrook, and Lewiston. Through these intensives we are able to serve an additional 48 students each year.

YWL Intensive participants 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.


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. 

The Whole World Waiting from The Telling Room on Vimeo.

The Whole World Waiting from The Telling Room on Vimeo.


How to Apply

To apply for Young Writers and Leaders you must be a Maine resident in grades 9-12 and born internationally or the first generation of your family to be born in the U.S.. Young Writers and Leaders program staff conduct informational sessions at the following high schools in September each year: Portland High School, Deering High School, Casco Bay High School, Westbrook High School, and South Portland High School. At these informational sessions, students complete an application and verbal interview.

Complete this form if you're interested in taking the next step! We'll be back in touch. For more information email Sonya Tomlinson at