In February I had the opportunity to visit the Telling Room, a nonprofit writing center “dedicated to the idea that children and young adults are natural storytellers. “ I had done my research before arriving in Portland, ME – and was excited for the chance to meet the staff. The day of our meeting, I decided to walk to the offices, as it was a gorgeous day. Plus it was a chance to see the harbor – as they have a view of the ships and the ocean water. Upon entering the offices of the Telling Room, I was comfortable, as it’s a very warm environment. (Colorful, lots of open space balanced with comfy spots). It was the kind of place that my former teen self would have gravitated too no less. (Let alone my present-day adult self)
Immediately I was greeted by Heather, Molly, and John. To say I felt welcomed would be a serious understatement. After learning more about the work they are doing, and a chance to chat about where writing & publishing is going – they loaded me up with books. Not just ANY books. These were anthologies written by their students. The Telling Room provided not only the opportunity for these children and teens to write, but published their stories. I was amazed. This is the equivalent of framing a child’s work of art, i.e. the perfect way to help instill confidence when creating a new work.
Now that I’ve had time to read all of the books, I find myself wanting other organizations to do the same thing (for children and teens) in their communities. The Telling Room anthologies reflect quite a bit of information about the lives of these children and teen writers. Many have faced displacement, death, violence, loneliness, love, broken hearts, friendships, bullying, hope, kindness, and more. Any adult would agree that’s a lot to experience, especially when so young.
It’s also evident these young writers are very creative. In “I Remember a Story,” Alex Yu writes a poem titled Ode to Origami Yoda, where the words are organized to resemble the shape of Yoda (from Star Wars). “How to Climb Trees” is an anthology from a Fairy House Workshop at the Telling Room, where the writers celebrated imagination without rules or boundaries. Alexa Carrington writes about learning archery in her essay, Bulls Eye:
“In those moments I wasn’t a feeble, different, awkward adolescent, but a person through and through. Something about the veil of physical education and callow youth, something above the low expectation and so-called ineptitude, I was a girl with an arrow in her arms. I was myself.”
In “Because It Was Colorful,” Nirera Uwimana writes about her drawing notebook. She finds much joy in filling its pages. Her only “problem” is that it’s not finished yet. She closes out by stating, the pages are so white that they make me want to draw more pictures.” My hope is once those pages are finished, someone will hand her another book.
The Telling Room is a special place and doing good things – outreach to local schools in Portland (Maine), writing workshops with children of all life backgrounds, and most importantly providing permanent place where children and teens can write and create new stories. In the best and worst of times, preserving one’s imagination is the key to looking forward, to thinking about possibilities and a future. The Telling Room is making this possible in Southern Maine.
For anyone reading this posting, please take a moment to donate your time in working with children and teens, in whatever capacity that’s comfortable. If you are a writer or a person who works in publishing (like me) – get involved! If you can’t participate, make a donation to writing organizations like the Telling Room. And last but not least, let’s try to make sure that arts organizations like this are given support at the local, state and national levels. Our children are the future of this country, and wouldn’t it be awesome if each child was given this type of experience?
For anyone who’d like to volunteer or make a donation to the Telling Room: