Reflections From a Long-Awaited Stay at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference


Finne Murphy

Steve Chung ’21, Tyler Lochan, Finne Murphy ’19 and Edil Hassan at Bread Loaf in August 2018.


In the middle of February in my senior year of high school, my twin sister and I met for an interview with a Middlebury alumna in a Starbucks crowded with tourists in ski gear. When she asked us what drew us to Middlebury, I did what any overworked 18-year-old would do and I racked my brain for anything that sounded vaguely informed and intelligent.

“The School of Bread Loaf,” I’d said.

When I was accepted to Middlebury, I did a better job of researching the options open to English majors at the college. The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference really did end up drawing me to the school, as I always knew I wanted to write and the conference looked fun and valuable — not to mention the cost of attendance is waived for a select few Middlebury students. I can remember talking with my mom as a first-year and telling her my plans to apply as a junior and hopefully attend in the summer before senior year. 

My acceptance two years later felt like things were falling into place and reminded me that, while Middlebury has had its ups and downs, this college was definitely the best choice for me.

My first day at the conference was hot and anxious as I sat in my room in the Inn waiting for my mystery roommate to appear. I knew what to expect because I had worked with Jason Lamb and Noreen Cargill (coordinator and administrative director, respectively): readings, dinners, classes, workshops, but I did not know how I, a quiet and reserved sort of person, could handle ten days of noise and events. 

Evidently, I had forgotten that most writers are also quiet and reserved and in some ways being around such like-minded people brought out in all of us an eagerness to introduce ourselves to strangers, chat about college in the Barn and inquire about each other’s lives and work.

Really, attending Bread Loaf is a lot like experiencing a collective fever. Rarely do we get the opportunity to isolate ourselves on a mountain with 200 people who also desire above all to spend their time writing in the hopes that someone will read their words someday. 

There is a joke amongst Bread Loafers that Robert Frost’s ghost haunts the writers’ conference. I am inclined to believe it, if only because of our habit of discussing him as if he were there made it seem like he really was inescapable. Frost, whose legacy (and Ripton home) are closely tied to the conference, attended Bread Loaf 29 times — so in some ways he haunted it when he was alive, too. Other writers to earn fellowships or faculty positions have ranged in genre and style from Toni Morrison to George R.R. Martin, John Irving to Eudora Welty. 

It is a place that doesn’t really let you forget those who have come before you, not simply because we all want to stand in awe of these writers, but because, sitting in the little theater where our literary heroes have also sat, we can more easily imagine ourselves writing something great (maybe even something good).

“It was really enthralling being part of a tradition and history of quality writers,” Steve Chung ’21 said. “If you’re a poet like me, for example, mingling with fiction writers or nonfiction writers was a really wonderful experience. There were so many experiences that people brought to the table.”

I imagine there are as many answers to the question, “What was the best part of Bread Loaf?” as there are attendees, but I am sure that many people would agree with me in saying that it felt like both a relief and an inspiration to be surrounded by so many writers. Maybe we aren’t so crazy or deluded. Or at least, we are not alone in our craziness and delusions.

For the most part, Bread Loaf was simply fun. From the dances to the readings, the workshops to the hayride (apparently the only accurate part of “The Simpsons” episode parodying Bread Loaf), the Conference participants delighted in the warm weather, new friendships and joy of writing.

“Definitely apply,” Chung said when I asked him what he would say to anyone interested in the conference. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Nowhere else do you get to meet so many writers in one place. Even if you don’t necessarily think you’re going to go into writing professionally, you should apply.”

What I experienced at Bread Loaf represents the most valuable time I have had at Middlebury and I imagine many years from now when I look back on the time I spent in college, I will remember the August skies of Ripton and fields of goldenrod as vividly as I will recall the flurries of snow and late nights in the library.