Published August 14, 2019 by Rebecca Goldfine

Students Help Maine Kids Tell Their Stories

The Telling Room, a Portland-based nonprofit that offers creative writing programs to kids throughout the state, has a mission that is hard to resist for literary-minded Bowdoin students who are interested in education.
Julianna Kiley and Lily Tedford
Julianna Kiley and Lily Tedford at The Telling Room in Portland

All throughout the year, The Telling Room offers workshops for kids to encourage them to write and share their stories. During the summer, they also run writing camps in a range of genres intriguing to literary-minded kids, from sports and food writing to humor and horror. Many of its programs are free.

The nonprofit's combination of education, creativity, and community engagement is a natural draw for many Bowdoin students. Three of them this summer have funding from the College to intern for the organization. We spoke to two of them to hear about their experiences.

Julianna Kiley ’20 has a Denning Summer Fellowship to help run The Telling Room's creative writing camps and also assist with an assortment of administrative and marketing tasks. She's an education and English major, and aspires to be an English high school teacher. 

For one camp she helped out with, Ekphrastic Excursions: Art Inspired Writing, Kiley traveled with campers around Portland to examine outdoor sculptures, museums, and galleries. For another, she and the kids studied scary writing, and wrote creepy stories themselves. Kiley said that working with young children on their writing is honing her teaching skills, particularly her deftness at being "an attentive reader."

Something for Bowdoin students to look forward to

Julianna Kiley is putting out feelers to strengthen the ties between The Telling Room and Bowdoin going forward. One idea she's had is to set up a program that allows English majors and other students in creative writing courses to mentor younger writers, adding an element of community service to their academic studies.

Rising sophomore Lily Tedford ’22 has funding from a Maine Community Fellowship to work for The Telling Room's publications office. She, too, is thinking about being an English teacher one day, but has a different focus than Kiley this summer: she's working on the publications side of the organization.

Tedford has been driving around Maine to place physical books, written by Telling Room students and published in anthologies, in the waiting rooms of dentists, doctors, car dealerships, tattoo parlors, acupuncturists, coffee shops, and other offices. It is part of a project called Read While You Wait.

"It's to spread the reach, to create an even bigger audience for youth voices," Tedford explained. She's also planning events so students can read their work to live audiences, collecting data on Read While You Wait, and working on getting Telling Room books in more libraries and bookstores.

Tedford, who did a Telling Room program herself when she was a middle school student in South Portland, Maine, said she wanted to work with an organization that helps kids. "I wanted to give back to a place that, if you live in Portland, you can see what great work it is doing," she said.

Kiley, who grew up in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, said the internship has inspired her to develop a creativing writing unit as an assignment for a fall class at Bowdoin on designing curriculum. And one day, she may use that unit in her own classroom.

"The Telling Room definitely puts a big emphasis on youth voices," Kiley said. "It operates on the idea that youth voices matter and deserve to be shared. That's going to be my big takeaway: just how powerful it is for young people to be able to share their voices through writing."