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July 19, 1999

Middlebury College Bread Loaf Writers' Conference Awards 1999 Bakeless Nason Prizes in Poetry, Fiction, and Nonfiction

The Middlebury College Bread Loaf Writers' Conference has announced the recipients of the fourth annual Bakeless Nason Literary Publication Prizes in poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. The prizes, established in honor of a long-time supporter of Middlebury College, are awarded to aid and encourage writers who are seeking publication of their first books. Three books-one by each of the three winners-will be published in the fall of 1999 by the Middlebury College/University Press of New England. The winning authors will also receive fellowships to attend the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in 2000.

Adria Bernardi's "The Day Laid on the Altar" was chosen by novelist and Bread Loaf faculty member Andrea Barrett for the fiction award. Jill Alexander Essbaum's "Heaven" was chosen by poet Agha Shahid Ali for the poetry prize. Kevin Oderman's "How Things Fit Together" was chosen by author Scott Russell Sanders for the creative nonfiction prize.

Adria Bernardi, the fiction award winner, is a resident of Worcester, Mass. A free-lance writer, she holds an undergraduate degree from Carleton College and a master's in Italian literature at the University of Chicago. Her translations of the poetry of Italian screenwriter Tonino Guerra were recently published under the title "Abandoned Places" (Guernica Editions, Toronto). Her fiction has appeared in the Santa Monica Review, River Oak Review, in the anthology "The Voices We Carry," and will be published in a forthcoming issue of Voices in Italian Americana.

Bernardi was the 1998 recipient of the A. E. Coppard Award for Short Fiction and the 1995 recipient of the James Fellowship for Novel awarded by the Heekin Group Foundation. She is the author of "Houses with Names: The Italian Immigrants of Highwood, Illinois" (University of Illinois Press).

Describing Bernardi's book, Barrett writes, "Spare, elegant, passionate, and brilliant, 'The Day Laid on the Altar,' like Penelope Fitzgerald's 'The Blue Flower,' drops us deftly into the heart of another time and place. Throughout several decades of the 16th century, in Venice, Florence, and a mountain village, the struggle to make art and life and wonder out of bleakness, plague, and hunger streams through characters ranging from an unlettered, visionary shepherd to the painter Titian, his family, and his servants. Adria Bernardi inhabits with equal grace the hearts and minds of men and women, knaves and saints, and artists and beggars-and in the process has made a novel as moving and precisely detailed as any of the paintings she so beautifully describes."

Bakeless poetry award-winner Jill Alexander Essbaum was born in southeast Texas in 1971 and is a resident of Austin. She received an undergraduate degree in French and English from the University of Houston in 1994 and continued her studies as a James A. Michener Departmental and Post-Graduate Fellow at the University of Texas in Austin, where she earned a master's in English in 1996.

Essbaum is a student at the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, where her focus of study includes popular religion, feminist theology, and Christianity in 20th century America. Her poetry has appeared or will appear in both local and national journals, including Artful Dodge, Borderlands, Rattle, The Texas Observer, Chance Magazine, and High Plains Literary Review.

Praising Essbaum's poetry, Ali writes, "Only the best writers put us right at the site of myth and thus assert, for us, our right to be part of the beginning and end of any world, any heaven. That Jill Alexander Essbaum does it so quietly, so delicately, and puts herself, and us, at the center of Heaven itself leads me only to envy. For how else can one convincingly transcend the domestic? There is simply no self-congratulation in these poems. Just a graceful, magical way of taking oneself-and one's bare uncertainties-for granted."

Kevin Oderman, the recipient of the Bakeless nonfiction prize, earned his bachelor's of arts degree from Reed College, a master's in English from Portland State, and a doctorate in English from University of California at Santa Barbara. He is a professor of English at West Virginia University, where he teaches American literature and creative writing. Over the last 10 years, his essays have appeared in the Northwest Review, Southwest Review, North American Review, Shenandoah, and in several other literary journals. With the support of Fulbright scholarships, he has twice taught abroad-first in Thessaloniki, Greece, and subsequently in Lahore, Pakistan.

Praising Oderman's work, Sanders writes, "Although the universe holds together faithfully, our own precious lives seem to scatter like blown leaves. How to bind up one's memories, yearnings, travels, scraps of knowledge, loves and lamentations into a coherent whole? That is Kevin Oderman's great theme in these compelling essays. He joins piece to piece with a poet's feel for elegant language and a carpenter's feel for sturdy joints. He's at ease outdoors as well as indoors-fishing in rivers as well as books, hunting in the wilds as well as museums. While Oderman writes of his private journeys in search of coherence, he also invites his readers to think about the fissures and patterns in their own lives."

For more information concerning the Bakeless Nason Literary Publication Prizes, contact Ian Pounds at Bakeless Prizes, Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT, 05753 or call 802-443-2018. Information is also available on the conference's web page at, or via e-mail to Complete guidelines for the 2000 prizes are currently available.