Kristina M.J. Powell’s Favorite Maine Place

When the Telling Room executive director needs to quiet her mind, she heads to the sun-drenched atrium of the Portland Public Library.

Portland Public Library
Photo by Trent Bell
Telling Room executive director Kristina M.J. Powell
AUTHOR’S DEBUT
Yarmouth author Leela Marie Hidier’s 2022 Changes in the Weather, written in the Telling Room’s Young Emerging Authors program, earned her a Hindi’s Libraries Females of Fiction Award and a recent trip to the White House for International Day of the Girl.
FRESH PERSPECTIVE
Powell loves exploring the Portland library through her 11-year-old son’s eyes. He’s a fan of Jerry Craft’s graphic-novel series, New Kid.
PUBLIC ART
The library is currently displaying Portland photographer Winky Lewis’s portraits of the Telling Room’s 2023 Young Writers and Leaders participants, whose work appears in an anthology, Printed in My Soul.
By Nora Saks
From our February 2024 issue

A few years ago, while pursuing her MBA, Kristina Powell wrote a career roadmap to landing a leadership position at the Telling Room, Portland’s beloved writing center for kids age six to 18. In October 2021, with the ink on her degree barely dry, she became the nonprofit’s executive director. “I’m still pinching myself,” she says.

A Bowdoin College graduate, Powell has spent more than a decade promoting education and youth programs at Maine institutions like the Council on International Educational Exchange, Bates College, and the Center for Grieving Children. Guiding the Telling Room, which offers diverse in-school, afterschool, and summer programs, has proven to be “a joyful whirlwind,” she says.

When she needs to get her head out of numbers, grants, and strategic plans, Powell goes into the center’s den-like main space, sits on the floor with the kids, and does a free-writing exercise. Even more rewarding, she says, is watching young authors confidently present their often deeply personal stories to the public and seeing the response they receive. “So many adults telling that young author ‘Yeah, you’re important, we hear you’ is the greatest,” Powell says. She dreams of a day when she turns over her seat at the Telling Room’s helm to an alum, and “the youth we serve become those who guide the work forward.”

Now celebrating its 20th year, the Telling Room has worked with thousands of young writers who have produced more than 200 books — anthologies, personal narratives, novels, poetry, and even an invasive-species cookbook. A number of those publications fill a rack in the teen section at the Portland Public Library, which also happens to be the location of Powell’s favorite place — the sun-drenched atrium.

The atrium is crowded and noisy, but Powell finds it’s one of the few places where she can quiet her mind. As a transracial adoptee from Korea in a predominantly white state, she says it’s sometimes hard to find spaces where she feels completely comfortable, but the central hall has proven to be her own telling room — “a place where I can bring and be my whole self.”

Headshot by Coco McCraken

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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