2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the Telling Room’s publications program. How has your approach to publishing young writers changed since then? What are you looking forward to in the coming year?
Wow! Yes, it’s been a solid decade since our first book, I Remember Warm Rain, outsold Harry Potter at Longfellow Books, and we have not slowed down since. We have published thousands of young writers in more than 100 books, twenty-five of which are for sale in bookstores. We are now publishing titles by individual authors, such as Aruna Kenyi’s engrossing memoir Between Two Rivers, Lizzy Lemieux’s Maine Literary Award-honored poetry collection, The Presumpscot Baptism of a Jewish Girl, and Madeline Curtis’s electric book of short stories A Yellow Apocalypse, in addition to our anthologies, including our ten-year anniversary book The Story I Want to Tell. All are proving popular in writing classrooms, from elementary school through graduate school. My dream for this year is that a whole school or school district might consider adopting one of our books for their students, because something really magical happens when kids read other kids’ writing–they see they can become writers themselves.
Every year, you put together a themed anthology of young writers’ work—recent themes have included Time, Bodies of Water, and Wild. How do you come up with each year’s theme? What are some particularly ingenious interpretations of recent themes that writers have come up with?
The theme is fun to do! Our staff invites students to submit theme ideas, and then we vote on our favorites during a retreat every winter. This year, nearly 5,000 students will have written on our theme, Encounters, through Telling Room programs and our statewide writing contest. Using the theme challenges our teaching artists to plan new curricula every year and keeps us all fresh, as we teach students of all ages and all abilities. I guess the theme I want to brag about is one of the ones that wasn’t planned. We decided to celebrate our 2015 White House award—our Young Writers & Leaders (YWL) program for immigrant, refugee, political asylee, and first generation American high schoolers won a National Arts and the Humanities Youth Programs Award—by publishing a book of the best writing from the kids in YWL. After sewing thirty of their most beautiful and provocative stories and poems together, I saw that the story map they made was a journey from home to home. One of our teaching artists, Kathryn Williams Renna, recognized a line in Cameroon author Clautel Buba’s poem as being particularly fitting with this Home theme, and this became the book’s title: A Season for Building Houses. Read this book, and you’ll see how perfect that title is!
What is one thing you wish more people knew about how books come together at the Telling Room?
We are a nonprofit press—the sales of our books support The Telling Room’s writing and publishing programs to keep them free for kids—and although we still have a tiny staff we are flourishing because people are learning that kids’ stories are worth reading and sharing. Also, today we make books by kids, about kids, with kids. Our writing and publishing programs have become more robust, and through them Telling Room students learn about book publishing in an apprenticeship environment, working alongside professional writers, editors, and designers. We are grateful to get to produce books by emerging and often marginalized writers, and very excited to be pioneers in youth publishing.
The Telling Room
225 Commercial St #201
Portland, ME 04101