Bread Loaf Writers' Conference History
Bread Loaf is the oldest writers' conference in America. Since 1926--a generation before "creative writing" became a course of study in educational settings--it has convened in mid-August at the Bread Loaf campus of Middlebury College.
Set in the Green Mountain National Forest in Ripton, Vermont, the land was acquired in the nineteenth century by Joseph Battell, breeder of Morgan horses, proprietor of the local newspaper, and spirited lover of nature. He added a cupola and three-story wings to an existing Victorian farmhouse, and built a series of cottages to house his summer guests. Ultimately, Battell purchased more than 30,000 acres of forest and farmland in the mountains, and in 1915, willed all of it to Middlebury College. The College established a graduate school of English and American literature-still in session for six weeks every summer-and housed it on the Bread Loaf campus.
The impulse to establish the "Conferences on Writing" came initially from Robert Frost, who loved the inspiring setting. Willa Cather, Katherine Lee Bates, and Louis Untermeyer--all of whom taught at the School of English in 1922--also suggested that the campus be used for a writers' conference when it was vacant at the end of each August. The idea took hold. At Middlebury College's request, the young editor John Farrar organized a teaching staff and program.
The writers John Farrar attracted to the campus in the first few years-among them Stephen Vincent Benet and Hervey Allen-helped established the reputation of what came to be called the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. They were followed by a long line of writers with established reputations, as well as writers in more formative years, for whom Bread Loaf was a source of encouragement.
The buildings at Bread Loaf have been modernized in the years since Joseph Battell stood near the horse-block, welcoming guests as they alighted from carriages. The old stage route up the steep pitches and hairpin twists of the Ripton Gorge has been paved. Despite concessions to convenience, the campus has changed little in the last half century. The old wood-shingled Bread Loaf Inn, the huge Barn with its fieldstone fireplace, the outlying buildings with their porches and Adirondack chairs, the stillness of the surrounding forest-all are much as they were in 1926 when the Conference began.
[Historical facts are taken from The First Thirty Years by Theodore Morrison and Whose Woods These Are by David Haward Bain and Mary Smyth Duffy.]