Bread Loaf was magical.
I’ve been trying to figure out what to say about it, how to explain how magical it was….I’m not sure I can capture it here, so that someone who’s never been could understand how special a place it is, but I’ll try…
I first went to Bread Loaf when I was 22 and filled with dreams of being a writer. “Bread Loaf was my Paris and my Rome,” Wallace Stegner said after he went there. Back then I dreamed of someday coming back as a fellow (you have to publish a book to be one), and to return this summer as a fellow was such an honor and, really, a dream come true. My second night there I went to the history slide show given by David Bain, which featured photos of Eudora Welty and Carson McCullers when they were fellows, sitting in their Adirondack chairs, and it drove home even more what an honor it was. As a fellow you get to read in the Little Theater, where Robert Frost and Toni Morrison have read, and in the middle of my reading I paused for a second, thinking of this history, and had chills up my spine.
My favorite things:
The people. I met so many amazing, amazing people—too many to name. I miss them already.
The lectures and craft classes. Faculty, fellows, and guests offer these great 1-hr classes on craft tips and techniques...Bret Anthony Johnston gave a fantastic one on POV, and Alex Chee gave an amazing one on troubleshooting the novel. I took tons of notes.
The incredible talent everywhere. Several people in my workshop will surely be published soon, and it was amazing to see so much talent. I also had the experience of reading the first section of a book that someone there, who wasn’t even in my workshop, was working on…and I stayed up till 3am finishing it and fell head over heels in love with it. It was thrilling, to be the first reader of a manuscript that I know is going to be an incredible book, and it felt like a gift to be able to help this writer get this book into the world.
The dances. Dancing in a huge barn with 100 poets and writers might sound scary in theory, but at around 1am I stared up at the fairy lights hanging from the rafters, dancing to Crazy In Love with Stacey D’Erasmo and Amaud Johnson and Martha Southgate and thought, Holy shit. This is so much FUN. (New resolution: go dancing more often. As in more than once every few years. Not sure where to go in Austin, but in NYC I love this hole in the wall on the Lower East Side.)
Random incredibly fun experiences, i.e. tango dancing. Bread Loaf waiter/scholar and tangoist extraordinaire Loren Kwan taught tango dancing a few evenings in the barn, and my tango partner was Andrew Foster Altschul, who, according to Loren, is a natural. Me? Hmmm….not so much. But Andrew and I decided we’re going to go pro anyway.
Most important of all?
The incredible feeling it leaves you with. There’s so much gloom and doom in the media about the death of reading in American culture, the lack of importance of poetry and fiction…yet to be in a place like Bread Loaf, literally worshipping poetry and fiction on an enchanted isolated fairytale mountain with these fellow worshippers…it’s unspeakably inspiring. That’s what it’s all about, really—that magic. I think often as writers we lose that sense of magic, of why we’re compelled to write in the first place. Bread Loaf makes you certain you’ll never forget it. And I’ll never forget what it was like to be there this summer.