Associate Editor Lisa Ampleman just returned from 10 days in beautiful Vermont at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference (average high in August: 78. Cincy’s average high? 86. When we’re lucky). Though she brought back the standard-issue Bread Loaf cold, we welcomed her coughing, sneezy presence–as long as she uses hand sanitizer before passing us any documents in the office. Here’s her take on the conference:
Lisa Ampleman: On the first day of Bread Loaf, Director Michael Collier cautioned us to pace ourselves, a sage bit of advice for a schedule packed with opportunities: a morning lecture, workshops and craft classes, meetings with visiting agents and editors, up to four readings in a day, late-night revelry in the “barn,” bonfires, meadows to explore, friends to make at the three daily meals. Enough to exhaust even the extroverts among us.
“It feels like summer camp for writers,” people kept saying, with the fresh mountain air, shared living space, and family-style dining. But the 220 writers hadn’t gathered just to swim in ponds or run the “Writers’ Cramp Race” (though some did): the heart of the conference is the workshops, when poets, fiction, and nonfiction writers sit down with notables in the field who know their craft. My workshop leader, Linda Gregerson, had a knack for explaining why a poem wasn’t working, if a phrase felt “off the shelf” or if an ending was too pat, and our workshop’s fellow, Troy Jollimore, knew how to tell us if a line break, sentiment, or diction choice wasn’t serving the poem well. The other nine poets in the workshop were insightful and helpful readers, who spend their non-Bread-Loaf days in various fields; though some were MFA and PhD students, our workshop also included a doctor specializing in geriatrics, a clinical psychology student, and a cosmetologist. For many, the conference was a chance to delve into their love for writing in a way they can’t in their everyday lives.
Midway through the conference, we walked down Highway 125 to the Homer Noble Farm, where Robert Frost (who had a hand in founding the conference) had a summer writing cabin later in his life. After a picnic, Collier took out a set of keys and opened up the cabin for us to explore, and John Elder, a retired Middlebury College professor, told us that much of Frost’s imagery was triggered by the natural world in that part of New England.
I also had the chance to say hello to and share Issue 9.1 with former CR contributors, including Julie Funderburk, Matt Hart, Carl Phillips, Joshua Rivkin, and Ted Sanders, and to meet many potential future contributors.
Other highlights: Claire Vaye Watkins biting down on the spine of her new story collection, Battleborn (Riverhead, 2012), at the start of her reading, just to make sure it was real. Matt Hart wowing the crowd with his rousing reading on the last afternoon of the conference. The very talented waiters surprising us by performing “Bread Loaf” to the tune of “New York, New York” at one dinner, with Molly Bashaw on trombone and Lan Samantha Chang’s young daughter twirling a boa. Hayrides around the meadow at a gala reception. And, of course, the two dances: where else can you see the incoming poet laureate get funky on the dance floor?
Want to know more? You can listen to lectures and readings from the conference here.
Other participants’ take on Bread Loaf: