It was an evening free of pretense, and a soiree like no other. An impressive group of people, vast in number and accomplishment, gathered at the Masonic Temple on Congress Street Thursday night to celebrate and laud the Telling Room, a nonprofit writing center in Portland catering to children and young adults ages 6 to 18.
“I will say one thing about this organization,” said Mike Paterniti, who co-founded the Telling Room with his wife, author Sara Corbett, and Susan Conley, a Portland-based author and creative writing professor. “From the very beginning, it belonged to Portland. That was the most magical thing, this community of people who felt it was as important as anything.”
This feeling is alive and well and indeed, seems to have strengthened over time. The guest list of authors who turned out to Glitterati, the Telling Room’s annual fundraiser billed as a “sparkling literary ball,” is both awe-inspiring and impressive: Richard Blanco, the fifth U.S. inaugural poet, Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Russo, New York Times best-selling author Kate Braestrup, former poet laureate of Maine Betsy Sholl, poet Gibson Fay-LeBlanc and authors Jessica Anthony, Roxana Robinson, Bill Roorbach and Colin Woodard.
“I’ve been a huge advocate of the Telling Room for many, many years,” said Anthony, who lives in Portland and teaches writing and literature at Bates College. “Growing up in the ’80s in upstate New York, there weren’t opportunities for kids to tell stories. If you can capture that, it really gives them a sense of command over who they are.”
Helen Brena, CEO of the YMCA of Southern Maine, took in the evening’s magical vibe with fellow partygoers Jan Kearce, executive director of the Institute for Civic Leadership, and George and Anna Marie Klein-Christie, who directs Rippleffect.
“For the Y, storytelling is a key way to understand how lives are impacted, and that’s what the Telling Room does,” said Brena, a staunch advocate for the importance of this kind of creative outlet for young people. “It allows people to tell their stories, and opens people up to appreciate and understand others… If we can appreciate the differences in others, we can work together and make a positive impact in our community.”
Erica Small, who works in AmeriCorps at Portland High School, agreed with that sentiment. “I run an after-school academic center that helps English-language students with their studies and academic profiles to help them to get into college. The Telling Room helps build their public speaking and leadership skills, and it empowers them.”
Small enjoyed the revelry with friends Lilly Van Der Steenhoven of Angela Adams and Kemper Tell of Avesta Housing.
Jill McGowan, clothing designer and owner of Jill McGowan Retail in Freeport, sat on the board of the Telling Room for five years and is a passionate supporter.
“I love stories, and the Telling Room is amazing at getting kids to put words to paper and tell stories from their hearts. They tap into young people like I have never seen.”
Gazing out at the crowd of over 350 people, all decked out in their festive finest and having a ball of a time, Andrew Griswold, communications director of the Telling Room, was beaming.
“I think it’s a combination of living in a state where writing is well supported… and, I think we throw a pretty good party,” he said. “It’s our second year at the Masonic Temple, which is kind of hallowed ground. We love the idea of having real working authors come and support the cause. It’s humbling for us.”
Perhaps Patty Hagge, who was presented with the Telling Room’s first Red Buoy Award along with her husband, Cyrus, honoring their gifts of time, resources, vision and leadership, said it best.
“I used to be a social worker, and I love peoples’ stories,” she said, sharing her recent experience mentoring a young girl from Somalia whose talent stood out from the rest. “To get people to tell their stories, and then to transform them by telling them, ‘This is your story,’ it’s amazing. They look back at you and say, ‘This is my story.’ It never gets old.”
For more information about the Telling Room and its programs, please visit www.tellingroom.org.
Margaret Logan is a freelance writer who lives in Scarborough. She can be contacted at: