4th Annual Bread Loaf Environmental Writers' Conference

Scott Sanders and Cynthia McVayRuben MartinezBird WalkTiya Miles
photo credit: Oliver Parini

The 4th annual Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers’ Conference is a week-long writers’ conference, based on the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference model, that’s designed to hone the skills of people interested in producing literary writing about the environment and the natural world. The conference is co-sponsored by the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Orion Magazine, and Middlebury College’s Environmental Studies Program.


Saturday, June 3 – Friday, June 9, 2017.  The conference will take place at the Bread Loaf Campus of Middlebury College in Ripton, Vermont.


The conference will incorporate the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference model of small, focused workshops coupled with specialized classes focusing on the craft of writing. Workshops will be limited to ten participants so that each manuscript will receive individual, focused attention and critique. All participants will also meet individually with their workshop leader to amplify and refine what was said in the workshop itself. Established editors, literary agents, and publishers will give presentations on placing work in magazines and navigating the environmental book publishing world.

This week-long conference of workshops, classes, lectures, readings, and discussions is for writers who want to improve their writing about the environment; for writers who seek to become better advocates for the environment through their writing; for poets who are drawn to writing about the natural world; for teachers and scholars who wish to write for a more general readership; and for environmental professionals who want to bring better writing skills to bear on their work. For those who are interested in learning more about environmental and nature writing but who do not wish to workshop their writing, there is also an auditing option available.

To get a feel for what to expect during the week, see this sample schedule from the 2016 conference. In addition to the lectures, workshops, classes, and readings listed, meetings with agents and editors take place in the afternoon, and faculty schedule an individual meeting with each contributor to take place during the week. The manuscript packet of student writing is made available to each workshop group in the weeks leading up to the session in order to allow time to read and prepare before arrival.


Bread Loaf Orion will feature seven workshops with ten participants in each group. Faculty will include acclaimed nature and environmental writers Megan Mayhew Bergman, Camille T. Dungy, John Elder, Ross Gay, Ted Genoways, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Joe Wilkins. In addition to their literary accomplishments, each faculty member has been specifically chosen for their skill at guiding developing writers.  Click here to see the facutly for 2017.


The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference is the oldest writers' conference in America. Since 1926 it has convened in mid-August at the Bread Loaf campus of Middlebury College. Envisioned by Robert Frost, the Conference has featured eminent writers such as Willa Cather, Toni Morrison, Wallace Stegner, Eudora Welty, John Irving, Natasha Trethewey, Terry Tempest Williams, Barry Lopez, Julia Alvarez, William Kittredge, Scott Russell Sanders, and Luis Alberto Urrea.  The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference has a long legacy of commitment to the environment, dating back to early naturalist Joseph Battell who created the original Bread Loaf site as a mountain retreat in 1866. 

Founded in 1982, Orion is the foremost magazine for the publication of the highest quality creative nonfiction, fiction, narrative journalism, and poetry dedicated to nature and the environment. Through writing and art that explore the connection between nature and culture, Orion inspires new thinking about how humanity might live on Earth justly, sustainably, and joyously. Orion was a finalist for the National Magazine Award in 2010 and 2013. From 2005-2013, Orion co-sponsored the week-long Wildbranch Writing Workshop, dedicated to writing about nature and the environment and this new conference builds on the successful tradition established by Wildbranch.

Dating from 1965, the Middlebury College Environmental Studies Program is the oldest undergraduate environmental studies program in the United States and one of the College's largest majors. The Environmental Studies Program brings together a community of scholars and students engaged in the study of the human relationship to the environment. Students choose from foci across the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. Ten core faculty members and forty affiliated faculty colleagues from 24 departments on campus together offer an interdisciplinary major and minor in which students learn to observe, explore, listen, analyze, question, discuss, and pursue answers through creative work, research, and problem-solving.


Applications to the conference will be accepted between October 15, 2016 and February 15, 2017 or until the spaces are filled. Acceptance is based on the strength and promise of the writing sample and on the Admissions Board's judgment that the applicant will benefit from the conference. The application cover letter is also considered. Two workshops will be offered in poetry (Dungy and Gay); one in fiction (Bergman); and four in creative nonfiction (Elder, Genoways, Kimmerer, and Wilkins).

Acceptances will be made on a rolling basis and applicants will be notified whether they have been admitted approximately four to six weeks after they apply.


Thanks to support from the Katharine Bakeless Nason Endowment and Middlebury College, the conference is making available a limited number of $500 and $1,000 scholarships as well as at least two full scholarships. 


See the BL Orion pages for more details: Faculty & Guests, Application & Acceptance, Lodging & Logistics, and Fees & Deadlines.


Bread Loaf Conferences
204 College Street
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753

Phone: 802-443-5286
Fax: 802-443-2087
E-mail: blwc@middlebury.edu