One award-winning stage producer, two acclaimed novelists, two talented young poets, one DJ, one stand-up comic, and a band of flamenco musicians and dancers. What does that add up to? The Telling Room’s 2023 “Show & Tell: A Literary Spectacular” at the State Theatre in Portland.

More than 600 people attended the May 9 storytelling-focused variety show, raising $107,000 – including $23,000 in donations – to support free writing and publishing programs for ages 6-18.

“We’re about the power of finding and using your voice – self-expression in all its forms,” said Executive Director Kristina Powell. “When youths come to The Telling Room, they gain the skills and confidence to creatively share their stories, weaving their visions in poems and speaking their minds in essays. They do that hard work in community – with each other and with mentors and artists who are actually listening and seeing who they are.”

Three writers – Sara Corbett, Michael Paterniti and Susan Conley – founded The Telling Room in 2004. Since then, more than 34,000 youths have participated in its writing programs, offered at its space on Commercial Street in Portland, online, and in schools and libraries from Kittery to Limestone.

At a pre-“Show & Tell” cocktail reception attended by event sponsors, volunteer Jim Moulton of Bowdoin summed up The Telling Room mission: “We spend so much time teaching kids how to write; the Telling Room molds that with why to write.”

Gibson Fay LeBlanc, an advisory board member and executive director of Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, said what many of the guests were thinking: “It’s the writing organization that I wish existed in my childhood.”


At “Show & Tell,” selected young adult writers share their work on the same stage as acclaimed professionals. This year’s headliners were novelists Lynn Seger Strong (“Hold Still,” “Want” and “Flight”) and Weike Wang (“Chemistry” and “Joan Is Okay”). Strong and Wang told personal stories, somewhat spontaneously, with compelling self-awareness and humor. With award-winning film and stage producer Sean Mewshaw running the show, the writers’ personal narratives became full stage productions with creative set design and lighting, video and animation.

Two recent Telling Room alumni – both poets – got the same multimedia treatment on the big stage. Hailey Talbert, a Falmouth High School senior soon to be studying English at Yale University, performed “On the Day Portland Burned Down Again” in an immersive stage setting created from her own oil paintings. Young Writers & Leaders Program alum Joshua Tyson of Portland, a first-year student at University of Southern Maine, read “My Rhapsody” – a poem so personal the audience couldn’t help but feel honored to have been trusted with it.

The evening was co-hosted by board member, DJ and podcaster Moises “Mosart212” Nunez and Mo Awale, a stand-up comic and Telling Room alum. Awale said, “Our stories define us, and much of my stand-up is stories.”

Every variety show needs musical guests, and filling that role was Olas, a band of flamenco musicians and dancers. Featured soloist 13-year-old Kaya Teret of Portland – who has been studying flamenco dance with Olas member Lindsey Bourassa since she was 4 – captivated the audience, telling a wordless story of her own through masterfully expressive hand movements.

“The Telling Room is about the power of finding and using your voice,” Powell said. “Self-expression in all its forms.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: