The Telling Room was founded in 2004 by three writers – Sara Corbett, Mike Paterniti, and Susan Conley – who wanted to make a difference in their community. Sara is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and other notable publications. Mike is a staff writer for GQ and author of three books including the National Book Award nominee, Love and Other Ways of Dying. Susan has published three books including a nationally acclaimed memoir about her family’s time abroad in China, The Foremost Good Fortune. Though all three had traveled the globe in search of compelling stories, Sara, Mike, and Susan imagined that getting in touch with the youth of Portland and their stories could be like putting your ear to a seashell and hearing the whole ocean.
Sara, Mike, and Susan imagined that getting in touch with the youth of Portland and their stories could be like putting your ear to a seashell and hearing the whole ocean.
The founders began their work by rallying a group of local writers and artists fueled by a belief that the power of story could change their community for the better. They met first with any students they could bribe with pizza and grape soda in roundtable workshops. Then in 2005, they secured their first grant and began to meet regularly with a group of international English Language Learner students at Portland’s high schools, most of whom were immigrants and recent refugees from impoverished and war-torn areas throughout Africa and the Middle East. The stories of these students came to life in The Telling Room’s first project, which included a large-scale, traveling art installation created in conjunction with students at the Maine College of Art. Fifteen of the best student stories and poems were published in our first anthology, I Remember Warm Rain.
From there, The Telling Room’s work took off quickly, and demand for our programs grew. In response to the community’s needs, we began offering some of our first programs: Field Trips, Afterschool Workshops, and In School Residencies. In 2006, we began running those programs out of our very own writing center on Commercial Street and went on to produce our second anthology, I Carry It Everywhere. By 2008, The Telling Room had four paid, part-time employees and was serving 1,000 students a year throughout Greater Portland.
Now, in 2017, The Telling Room has a paid staff of eleven, a permanent Teaching Artist in Residence position, and nine interns serving over 3,500 students each year. We utilize the services of over 200 volunteers annually to provide one-on-one support to our young writers, and during the 2015-2016 school year, we reached students and teachers from nearly 60 schools spanning over 30 towns across the state of Maine. Our accomplishments have been recognized with awards and major funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Maine Association of Nonprofits, and the Maine Alliance for Arts Education’s Imagination Intensive Communities program, among many others.
As we approach our 15th anniversary, we’ve published an anthology every year since that initial project and dozens of chapbooks and multimedia projects besides. We look forward to seeing what the next tide of young writers and community shapers will bring, and we can’t wait for the next chapter to begin.