The Bread Loaf Conferences offer an array of programs that are part of a tradition that started in 1926 with the first Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. The oldest writers’ conference in America, Bread Loaf held its first session a generation before “creative writing” became a course of study in educational settings. Today Bread Loaf is again leading the way with new programs dedicated to environmental writing and also literary translation. And with Bread Loaf in Sicily, the conference travels abroad each year giving participants the opportunity to experience a smaller more intensive version of the conference while exploring another culture.
A collaboration between the Bread Loaf Conferences, Orion magazine, and Middlebury College’s Environmental Studies Program, the first annual Bread Loaf Orion Writers’ Conference took place in June 2014, and the inaugural Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference, a natural complement to signature Middlebury programs such as the the Language Schools and the equally-renowned translation and interpretation degree programs at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS), will be held in June 2015. Similar to the original August conference, the two new programs, held concurrently during the first week of June, take place on Middlebury’s Bread Loaf campus.
Set in the Green Mountain National Forest in Ripton, Vermont, the Bread Loaf 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," as the original conference was known, 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 Little Theatre, where conference attendees still gather today for readings and lectures, was filled to capacity in 1928 when Sinclair Lewis presented his newest work, and later, in 1945, when Richard Wright read from Native Son to a spellbound audience. A young Eudora Welty worked diligently on A Curtain of Green with her faculty mentor Katherine Anne Porter as they sat by the huge fireplace in the Barn. And Robert Frost was an avid hiker of the trails around campus that evoked some of his most memorable poetry. So many remarkable writers have made Ripton, Vermont, and now Erice, Sicily, their home during the Bread Loaf Conferences programs, and we hope you will too.
[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.]
Watch an interview with Bread Loaf Fellow Tiphanie Yanique filmed on the Bread Load campus:
Click here to watch Telling American Stories, an anniversary video that includes interviews with many of Bread Loaf's veteran faculty.