Glitz and glam are themes of the Telling Room’s annual Glitterati fundraiser, where supporters of Portland’s nonprofit writing center seize the opportunity to make a fashion statement.

About 400 guests attended the sparkling literary ball at the Westin Portland Harborview on April 6, raising $75,000 for the Telling Room’s in-school programs and free creative writing classes.

“The Telling Room just guides stories out of kids,” said volunteer Zoe Kubachka. “And if you walk by their office, they’re always laughing.”

“Our son has been so inspired by the writers at the Telling Room,” said Sheila McKinley, whose 16-year-old, Liam Swift, received a national Scholastic Art & Writing Award for the novel he wrote at the Telling Room last year as part of his Young Emerging Authors Fellowship.

“The staff have high expectations but they’re gentle,” said Doug Swift, Liam’s father. “They’re very talented writers and teachers.”

“Tonight is a chance to gather all the people who contribute year-round, thank them publicly and give them an inside look at some of our programs,” said Andrew Griswold, communications director. “We need to be encouraging and thanking arts advocates now more than ever.”

With that in mind, the annual Red Buoy Award for a champion of the Telling Room was awarded to U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees the National Endowment for the Arts. Legislative correspondent Dorian Cole read a statement from Pingree, who unexpectedly had to stay in Washington, D.C.

“The Telling Room is an amazing organization that has enriched our state by helping young Mainers unlock their creative potential,” Pingree wrote. “I especially appreciate and admire the organization’s work with immigrant and refugee youth, empowering them to become outspoken voices, storytellers and leaders in our community.”

“I spent my first two years in the United States in silence,” said Ekhlas Ahmed, a refugee from Darfur who came to Portland 12 years ago and participated in the Telling Room Writing Residency as a student at Casco Bay High School. “The program not only gave me a voice, it gave me hope.”

Today, Ahmed is a Telling Room board member and an English teacher at Casco Bay. She was invited to appear on the “Ellen” show because of her work with the high school’s Make It Happen, a college readiness program for multilingual students. A graduate student at the University of Southern Maine, she’s writing an autobiography in poetic form to raise awareness about South Sudan.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer from Scarborough. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

filed under: