Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Bread Loaf Writers' Conference Continues

The Bread Loaf Writers' Conference continues. You can read the conference's daily newsletter to see what you're missing. Last Monday they had their annual picnic at Robert Frost's cabin. They have been doing that for decades.

We hated having to get ready for that freaking picnic.

Those of us who worked in the kitchen at Bread Loaf were always fascinated with the poor writers, some of whom worked with us as waiting staff. We were always watching them, always waiting for them to do...something. Anything. My first year at Bread Loaf I was warned about the writers’ conference for the entire six weeks of the English school that preceded it. The summer before, I was told, a well-known science fiction writer had done his laundry—all of it—and then sunbathed naked while he waited for it to dry. There had been a dance in the enormous old barn, which then housed a lounge (and a colony of bats in its rafters), that same year. The gyrations of one male writer, according to a kitchen employee who had been watching him, were “obscenity in motion.”

But nothing much seemed to happen during the years I was at Bread Loaf. I went to some kind of cocktail party, hung around the fringes of a women in literature meeting, and snuck into at least one reading (Lore Segal a children's writer, among other things, though I had no interest in children's books at that point.)

The most significant occurrence during my three years at the writers’ conference wasn’t an occurrence at all. In fact, it was just the opposite. I was always missing people. Julia Alvarez was a student at Bread Loaf—in the years before I got there. John Irving was on the faculty—“in the mid-1970’s” the magazines always say. Does “mid-1970’s” include 1974 and 1975, the last two years I was there? If he was there, I didn’t know it. Toni Morrison served on the faculty, too—the year after I left. David Huddle, a fiction writer who is often mentioned in articles about the conference, was my creative writing professor for two semesters at the University of Vermont. Was he there when I was? Of course not.

This is the story of my life, people. I always manage to miss everything.

In the interests of journalistic integrity, I must tell you that I think the photo included with this post is of waiting staff at the English school and not at the writers' conference. But graduate students in English look very much like aspiring writers.


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