The Telling Room recognizes 16 young authors from across Maine as county winners in its 16th annual Statewide Writing Contest for 2023. Local winners, from left, are Sophie Mihm, Baylee Lord, Alexandra Dening and Charlie Levesque.

PORTLAND — The Telling Room, a literary arts education organization whose mission is to empower youth through writing and share their voices with the world, recognizes 16 young authors from across Maine as county winners in the 16th annual Statewide Writing Contest.

Each year The Telling Room encourages youth to submit work to the annual contest, and this year 350 youth ages 6 to 18 rose to the occasion, submitting more than 500 pieces of creative writing from 165 Maine cities and towns. For the first time ever, The Telling Room received multiple submissions from writers in each of Maine’s 16 counties, according to a news release from Rylan Hynes, communications manager.

To recognize the wide geographic participation in this year’s contest, The Telling Room has honored one writer from each of Maine’s 16 counties, in addition to the grand prize winner. Jules Vázquez, 15, of South Portland, was selected as the Cumberland County winner and grand prize winner for Vázquez’s poem, “Older Sister to Younger Brother.”

The panel of 24 judges who selected the grand prize and county winners included educators, local authors, Telling Room alumni, and current Telling Room students. The winning pieces span genres such as poetry, fiction, nonfiction and horror.

Sophie Mihm Chris Bolduc Photography

Sophie Mihm, 17, of Sidney, took home the Kennebec County prize.

A Messalonskee High School senior, Mihm is an activist and interdisciplinary artist. Their poem, “Oblong Tin, Yellow Box,” is an extended metaphor of a claustrophobic sardine that honestly and vulnerably illustrates her OCD’s impact on a particular taxi cab journey.


Mihm is passionate about contemporary composition, poetry, visual art and advocacy pertaining to intersectional feminism and LGBTQ+ inclusion.

Baylee Lord Submitted photo

Baylee Lord, 15, of St. Albans, took home the Somerset County prize.

Lord wrote “Feel Me,” a short story of revenge as a sophomore at Nokomis Regional High School. Lord writes a story of mystery, murder, and suspense, as the murderer turns out to be a friend among friends talking of a night that wouldn’t be talked of again.

This was only originally a fun activity she did while in a school day, and it was a journal entry that had been slightly modified.

Alexandra Dening Submitted photo

Alexandra Dening, 17, of Leeds, attends Leavitt Area High School.

She’s attempting to write an epic fantasy novel, but her characters refuse to stick to the outline and her dog likes to use the laptop as a pillow, so the book is far from finished.


“The Jacket” is her first foray into poetry. The original version of the poem was bleak and depressing, because those were the emotions that inspired her to write it. The process that brought it from its initial form to its final product helped her to examine her relationships.

Charlie Levesque Submitted photo

Charlie Levesque, 9, of Farmington, is a student at Wayne Elementary School. She enjoys skiing and playing soccer with her friends.

The idea of “Mom’s Echo” just came to her, and she really likes writing stories that include dialogue and adventure.

The 16 county winners include:

• “The Jacket” by Dening (Androscoggin)

• “Losing Something You Can’t Touch” by Maggie Bell, 14, of Caribou (Aroostook)


• “Mom’s Echo” by Levesque (Franklin)

• “Isn’t It Beautiful?” by Avalon Tate, 13, of Otis (Hancock)

• “Oblong Tin, Yellow Box” by Mihm (Kennebec)

• “My First Fish” by Sigmund Alexander, 10, of North Haven (Knox)

• “Oarlock” by Milo Popken, 10, of South Bristol (Lincoln)

• “Chains” by Abby Shedd, 9, of Stoneham (Oxford)


• “Birthday in Kyiv” by Sophia Tyutyunnyk, 14, of Orono (Penobscot)

• “Ode to Joy” by James Corbin, 13, of Dover-Foxcroft (Piscataquis)

• “The Shadow Man” by Madeline Rice, 14, of Georgetown (Sagadahoc)

• “Feel Me” by Lord (Somerset)

• “Slipshod Thoughts on a Magnetized Home” by Willa Bywater, 17, Belfast (Waldo)

• “The Race” by Derek Bright, 14, of Addison (Washington)


• “The Pink Pen” by Sabine D’Aran, 14, of South Berwick (York)

The grand prize winner receives publication in The Telling Room’s annual anthology of youth writing, as well as a cash prize of $250. Each county winner will also be published in the upcoming anthology, and receive a cash prize of $50.

To read the winning pieces, visit

For more information about the writing contest, email Telling Room Lead Teacher Jude Marx at [email protected].



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