Four Young Writers to Watch in the Pine Tree State

From award-winning short stories to published novellas, teenage authors are making their mark.

Over the past two centuries, Maine has carved a niche for itself as a quiet haven for writers, including literary legends such as Edna St. Vincent Millay, E.B. White, and Stephen King. With the help of organizations like the Telling Room and the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance (MWPA), the state’s literary community has continued to thrive, partly by encouraging and nurturing the next generation of creatives. In addition to juggling homework and extracurriculars, navigating relationships, and taking on the ever-changing day-to-day responsibilities of high school students, these four young writers have been burning the midnight oil (and their candles at both ends) to add “published author” to their lists of accomplishments.

Maeve Tholen

A sophomore at Lincoln Academy in Newcastle, Maeve Tholen was named one of two first-place winners in the MWPA’s 2022 youth competition in fiction for her short story “Chocolate Hope,” which is about a young woman from a family of cacao growers who emigrates from Brazil to Miami. Originally written for a class assignment, Tholen’s story was inspired by her family’s love for chocolate as well as by a picture book she read as a child. The overarching theme is “finding community in a new place, while staying true to who you are and your roots,” says Tholen. A writer of poetry and short fiction, Tholen previously had her poem “At Sunset” published by the Telling Room, and in 2021 she won a Scholastic National Gold Medal for another of her short stories. “I love writing because it allows me to process things that are going on in my life, and to share what I’m thinking about and feeling with others,” she says. “It’s a way to use my voice.”

Leela Marie Hidier

Yarmouth High School senior Leela Marie Hidier wrote and published her first novel, Changes in the Weather, through the Telling Room’s Young Emerging Authors (YEA) program, a yearlong apprenticeship that walks four high school students through the entire publication process, from pitching a story idea to picking out cover artwork. Originally from London, UK, Hidier moved to Maine in 2018 and now lives in a three-generational household. During the pandemic, she began journaling and spending more time outdoors to help process her emotions about the state of the world, which ignited her love for writing and interest in climate activism. Her story follows across the U.S. four young climate refugees who “find sanctuary—and strength—in their families, friends, communities, and even strangers,” says Hidier. “Along the way, they learn to use their voices to create change and discover what home really means.” Recently Hidier has branched out into nonfiction writing with an essay titled “Weaving Home,” published in the November edition of Amjambo Africa. She was also accepted into the Telling Room’s yearlong Young Writers and Leaders program, during which she will dabble in a variety of genres and styles. “I want to be a seed that sparks climate activism through my storytelling,” says Hidier. “I have learned to find my place in the climate and social justice conversations through [my writing].”

MacKenzie VerLee

MacKenzie VerLee, a winner of MWPA’s 2022 youth competition in fiction, is a sophomore at Falmouth High School who was awarded the top prize for her short story, “The Lighthouse Keeper.” Written as part of a class assignment, the story was required to take place in the future and to have a happy ending. “At first, it was tricky to think of a story that could have a positive resolution, because all that came to mind were horrible things like global warming and the fall of our government,” says VerLee. However, the image of a lighthouse on the rocks, a small sailboat, and a cunning old man at the helm kept popping into her head. “The old man is supposed to represent my grandfather,” she says. “He is someone who somehow knows the answer to every question.” An avid soccer player and track athlete, VerLee has recently taken up online journaling, which helps her to manage stress and organize her thoughts. As for her favorite part of the writing process, VerLee loves naming characters, saying that finding the perfect name helps her bring them to life.

Noor Sager

Noor Sager has been involved with the Telling Room since their freshman year of high school, when they participated in a summer program specifically for first- and second-generation immigrants. Now a senior at Gorham High School, Sager was most recently a part of the literary nonprofit’s YEA program, during which they wrote and published their first novel, A Destiny Borrowed. Inspired by Sager’s love of fantasy fiction, the book follows a nonbinary protagonist with fantastic powers and takes an interesting twist on the “chosen one” archetype. Inspired by fantasy fiction books they read in middle school, Sager wanted their story to create a world focused on magic, and imbued with queer themes that they wish they had found when they were 12. “If reading a novel about a chosen one who happens to be nonbinary gives someone the opportunity to understand how they/them pronouns are used, then that’s amazing,” says Sager, who plans to stay in Maine for college. An avid writer who loves world building, Sager will soon start working on their next book, although it remains to be determined whether it will be a sequel or something new. “I cannot wait to see the books that the next wave of Maine writers produce,” they say. “If the small pool of absolutely brilliant authors I’ve met at the Telling Room is anything to go by, we have a lot of wickedly funny and uniquely authentic stories coming our way.”

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