Bread Loaf Diaries

The first time I heard of Bread Loaf was from my friend L. in a writing class in 2001. Shortly thereafter I happened upon Rebecca Mead’s article in the New Yorker, which begins thus:

There are very few places in America where it can be claimed definitively that poets kick ass, and one of them is the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, which takes place over eleven days every August in the Green Mountains of Vermont. At Bread Loaf, which is the oldest and most prestigious writers’ conference in the country, poets are not the effete, marginal figures of popular imagination. This was amply demonstrated at this year’s poets-versus-fiction-writers football game, a regular fixture in which those who traffic in metre and rhyme go head to head on the Bread Loaf meadow with crafters of experimental, semi-autobiographical narratives.

Mead provides some history on the conference, what kind of work one can hope to do during the two weeks, drops names of frequent faculty, and then gets to the part that is remembered by most of my writer friends:

The triple compulsions of Bread Loaf have, traditionally, been getting published, getting drunk, and getting laid; and, though each is honored more in the breach than in the observance, the reputation lingers. The conference is informally known as Bed Loaf–it comes as something of a disappointment to discover that, in coining a nickname, the finest literary talents of the twentieth century couldn’t come up with anything better than a low pun–and for many years it was as notorious for its debauchery as for its higher-minded pursuits. (…) Attendees of conferences dating to the early nineties will, when pressed, tell of finding conferees rutting in hedgerows, and sometimes will even confess to engaging in some rutting themselves. Similarly, Bread Loaf used to be famous for the quantities of alcohol ingested: the faculty would take off for Bloody Marys before lunch and Martinis before dinner, and some could be found still boozing at dawn in the faculty lounge, Treman Cottage, if they had not already taken off for the hedgerows.

Things have changed somewhat, Mead explains. Bread Loaf is “a primmer place now,” she says. And yet, upon finding out that I was attending this year, a number of my friends cautioned against too much partying.

Three years ago, Dave Koch (one of the founding editors of the Land-Grant College Review) wrote a diary for Slate, describing the work he had to do for his waitership. And today I found myself madly googling for it, as prep for the kind of work I’ll be doing.

I’ll be in transit most of today, so check back again tomorrow for on-site posts.

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