What's Happening?

Interview with Tyler Curtain, Bread Loaf’s New Associate Director

Curtain crop II.jpgTyler Curtain, associate professor of English and comparative literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and codirector of the Center for Philosophy of Biology at Duke University, has taught at Bread Loaf’s Vermont campus since 2011. Offering courses as varied as Disenchantment, Fantasy, and Belief; On the Harms of Literature; Science Fiction’s Counterfactuals; Against Human Flourishing; Horror; and Order and Disorder in the Human Sciences, the polymath asks Bread Loafers difficult questions—“Can literature tear the social fabric?” and “How do poems mean?”—even within his course descriptions. In January 2014, Curtain became associate director of the School of English. He shares with us here his thoughts on Bread Loaf and his new role with the program.

What brought you to BLSE originally? What led you to accept the appointment as associate director?

Chance? Necessity? I received a letter from former Director Jim Maddox that invited me to join the faculty. I had no idea about Bread Loaf. I asked my husband, Jay, what he thought. We spent our summers in Atlanta, and I was hesitant to give that up. He said, Why not? When I started reading about Bread Loaf and its mission, I realized that something very special—and undeserved—had been given to me. I had a chance to teach top students who were hungry for the full intellectual life. I laughed, though. My first summer was Emily’s first year as director. She was terrific. I said to her, You know what I teach, right? She said, Yes! Do what you do! Reader, I did. That first summer was saturating. It stood me on my head. Jay said he had never seen me so happy and energized.

I accepted the appointment as associate director for a number of reasons, but first and foremost, I accepted out of a deep feeling of gratitude. Extraordinary places like Bread Loaf emerge from the hard work of a lot of folks. Given how Bread Loaf has transformed my life, I feel nothing but gratitude. When Emily asked to lend my labor to the task at hand, I felt my heart burst. I love this place. I hope to help it flourish. Bread Loaf’s centennial is five years away. I want Bread Loaf to be here in another hundred years.

What in your view distinguishes the Bread Loaf student population? The faculty? The curriculum?

Oh! How could I begin to answer? The students are ideal; the faculty are extraordinary, intelligent, accomplished, and generous to a fault; and the curriculum is a sort of star chart to find our futures. We make knowledge. If anything is miraculous, it must be that. We make new knowledge and Bread Loaf students then share what they have made with their students, their colleagues, and their communities. There is a shock in the realization that Bread Loaf’s students come here and say, I stretched out my hand and made a world. 

How have your research and teaching at your home institution fed into your work at Bread Loaf? How has your work at Bread Loaf fed into your year-round research and teaching?

Bread Loaf is cutting edge: it is experimental, and Bread Loaf’s students have allowed me to engage them in conversations that have led to wild places. I find myself saying words and forming sentences that become seedlings for the rest of the year’s research. I carry down the mountain the intellectual energy of conversations, of the classrooms, of the surprise of learning from students who are master teachers. The highest praise I can give is to say: You have led me to think a new thought. That is, for me, the very definition of joy. Bread Loaf, you have led me to think new thoughts. Just—joy!

Director’s Reception

At press time, director Emily Bartels held her fourth annual fall reception for Bread Loaf alumni, students, staff, and faculty at her home in Princeton, New Jersey.

Bread Loaf at NCTE

Members of the Bread Loaf community attending the 2015 National Council of Teachers of English Convention in Minneapolis from November 19–22 are invited to join us at our annual reception. More details will follow via email.