Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

Updated: February 6, 2023 On the record

On the Record: Portland nonprofit offers the write stuff for young Mainers

Photo / Jim Neuger Kristina M.J. Powell is executive director of the Telling Room, a Portland nonprofit dedicated to empowering youth through writing.

Kristina M.J. Powell is executive director of the Telling Room, a Portland nonprofit dedicated to empowering young people ages 6 to 18 through writing. Mainebiz caught up with the Bowdoin College alumna to find out more about her multicultural background and the literary arts education organization she has led since October 2021.

Mainebiz: How has your multicultural background shaped your career path?

Kristina Powell: I’m a transracial adoptee, with family rooted in cultures domestic and abroad. I’ve always been intrigued with the human experience and identity formation. How we understand ourselves and communicate, how differences between identity and others’ perceptions affect us, and how we find resolve. I’m driven to create opportunities for youth to be supported on this lifelong journey.

MB: How does the Telling Room empower youth through writing?

KP: We write, share [and] inspire. Writing is a foundational communication skill that builds understanding and empathy — not to mention it’s a beautiful art form. We support youth through ideation, mentorship with artists, drafting, editing, sharing and publishing their work in books.

MB: What can you tell us about the young people you serve?

KP: Youth join from across Maine through calls for writing submissions to participating in programs held at our Portland studio, in schools, and remotely. They’re curious and courageous, at different stages of writing exploration, from beginners to seasoned storytellers. Last year we served 2,125 students from 109 communities. In this year’s statewide writing contest, we had participation from all sixteen counties.

MB: What is a typical day or week like for you?

KP: Lots of collaboration with and deep listening to community partners, staff, board and youth. Whether I’m in conversations or spreadsheets, I’m stewarding our work and ensuring the mission continually guides us. The greatest times are when I’m writing and sharing with youth.

MB: What are some of your most impactful programs and why?

KP: We meet youth wherever they are in writing providing different access points, considering age, time and enthusiasm. Increasingly, youth join us and then continue on in another program. Our evaluations consistently show youth gain confidence when they write with us, feeling they have a unique voice. And when our youth are more confident, we are all made better.

MB: What are your main funding sources, and what is planned for this year’s Show & Tell fundraiser?

KP: Individual donations, grants from foundations and trusts, businesses, as well as events. After two years celebrating storytelling virtually, we’re thrilled to return to the State Theatre on May 9 for our annual Show & Tell event, directed once again by the talented Sean Mewshaw. Emceed by local comedian and alum Mo Awale, DJed by Mosart212, featuring acclaimed author Weike Wang and Telling Room writers.

MB: Any innovations made during the pandemic that your organization will keep going forward?

KP: When our studio closed early in the pandemic, SWARM! [Students Writers & Readers Meet!] was quickly imagined to remotely connect youth across Maine. We just published our fourth SWARM! chapbook, marking 200 publications in the Telling Room’s history.

MB: The three-year strategic plan you’re working on now will cover what priorities?

KP: We’ll build on our existing strengths, deepening partnerships, our program model and sharing impact. Simultaneously, we’ll strengthen ourselves for the future by enhancing infrastructure and advancing our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Approaching our 20th anniversary, the Telling Room is a beloved community organization, poised to become an institution.

MB: How can businesses or individuals support The Telling Room?

KP: We’re collaborating with sponsors for Show & Tell and welcome more businesses! Become a volunteer. Write with youth in our programs or serve on a committee or our board — we’re always seeking a diversity of expertise, identities, lived experiences — the more perspectives, the better. And read youth stories! Our bookstore is available online.

MB: Finally, what have you learned from sharing your own writing with young Mainers?

KP: That writing is a powerful processing tool — putting words to our experiences is challenging, but rewarding. I’m reminded that sharing your writing takes great vulnerability, but having a supportive group opening up together uplifts your sense of self and community. I’m inspired by the power of youth and honored to be able to write and share alongside them.

Sign up for Enews

Related Content


Order a PDF