Postcard from Bread Loaf

The weekend concluded the first annual Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers’ Conference, a week-long gathering of writers located in the green hills of Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf Campus. And what a week it was—from workshops and lectures by conference faculty and guests, to readings and conversation long into the night, we’re pretty sure something special happened at Bread Loaf.

To celebrate the week, meet a few of the conference participants, who share some of the best advice they received from their classes, workshops, and one-on-one meetings with this year’s faculty, which included Orion contributors Camille Dungy, Rick Bass, Alison Hawthorne Deming, and others.


Gary Phillips
Hometown: Silk Hope, North Carolina
Workshop genre: poetry
Favorite author: Nalo Hopkinson

“In my workshop with Camille, she said ‘repetition works best with variety.’ She helped me rethink the use of repetition in order to make its effect more powerful. Instead of exactly replicating a line, like in African call and response, you twist a little, trying to find phrases that are similar but not exactly the same.”

Michele Wick
Hometown: Northampton, Massachusetts
Workshop genre: fiction
Favorite authors: E.B. White, Amy Leach

“In Rick’s class we talked about character development, and he pointed out that characters who want two contradictory things are much more interesting than characters who don’t want anything. And if you don’t know what your characters want, maybe you don’t know them. This made me think about the importance of paradox in writing.”

Clara Fang
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Workshop genre: poetry
Favorite authors: Robert Haas, Eric Schlosser, Gus Speth

“In my Wednesday workshop, we talked about how writing about the environment carries with it a certain responsibility. There’s an even greater imperative to create great art—because it’s how we can send the strongest possible message to people, to help them engage with the most pressing issues of the day. It’s important to help people feel, and art is the way to do that.”

Nick Sirianno
Hometown: Chautauqua, New York
Workshop genre: poetry
Favorite authors: John Keats, Lee Wulff

“Rick said that everyone’s here at Bread Loaf because we have a secret undercurrent of passion for tradition, and I totally agree with that. We read old writers, though there is also a group of us that’s interested in the cutting edge of environmental writing. But the school of Whitman and Emerson can coexist with leading activists of today—the tradition of appreciation for beauty and preservation of beauty are both represented here. I’m more traditional in my style, though of course I’d like to instill appreciation for nature in readers so that everyone will want to preserve it. But my goal in my poetry isn’t to use writing to actively convince people to preserve nature.”

Eliot Schrefer
Hometown: New York, New York
Workshop genre: nonfiction
Favorite author: Sy Montgomery

“At one point in Alison’s craft class, she offered an almost off-the-cuff sounding essay structure for students to work with, saying, ‘So you could just structure it like this: A scene, dialogue, background, reflection, and one more scene.’ That ten seconds of advice was revelatory for me. Every great piece I’ve ever read has done that. Sometimes the more structured, practical things are more useful than the philosophical.”

The Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers’ Conference is designed to hone the skills of people interested in producing literary writing about the environment and the natural world. Learn more about the conference, and see the full list of 2014 faculty members, here.


  1. “In my workshop with Camille, she said ‘repetition works best with variety.’ She helped me rethink the use of repetition in order to make its effect more powerful.”

    Yes, repeat, but differently. Good insight.

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