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Whose Woods
These Are

A History of the
Bread Loaf
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In August 1926, the Bread Loaf Writers'' Conference was founded in the heart of Vermont's Green Mountains on a secluded upland plateau. Ever since, it has remained the oldest, largest, and most influential of the scores of writers' conferences around the country.
This annual conference, held in an old Victorian summer resort and sponsored by Middlebury College, has attracted some of the most notable American literary names of the twentieth century, including Robert Frost ("godfather of Bread Loaf"), Ralph Ellison, Truman Capote, Sinclair Lewis, Carson McCullers, Anne Sexton, John Gardner, Eudora Welty, John Irving, Toni Morrison, Wallace Stegner, William Gass, Richard Wright, May Sarton, Archibald Macleish, James T. Farrell, Howard Nemerov, Richard Wilbur, Maxine Kumin, and Stanley Elkin. It has nourished the careers of scores of promising young writers, many of whom went on to great literary prominence. At Bread Loaf, the friendships, the artistic and professional alliances, and the disputes and jealousies, have left their stamp upon those in attendance and, inevitably, upon the writing they created.
"Bread Loaf was, in a curious way, my Paris and my Rome. It was there that I met Frost, DeVoto, and many other writers who later became important in my life, and that summer 1938 led me directly to an appointment at Harvard and the chance to grow."
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In a comprehensive, scrupulously researched, and lively historical narrative, "Group Portrait," David Haward Bain traces not just the richly anecdotal story of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, but also sets the annual sessions into their literary, social, and political contexts. Thus, Bread Loaf becomes a convenient prominence from which to view the course of American letters over seven decades. Moreover, by examining the lives of a number of individual writers -- both celebrated and obscure -- the narrative illuminates on a personal level what the notion of community is for writers: how writers discover themselves, define their work, and, finally, encounter each other. Those stages of sustainment are scrutinized and celebrated, at once demystifying the creative process and giving new inspiration to writes and lovers of literature everywhere.
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The richly-illustrated second half of Whose Woods These Are (edited by Bain and artist/curator Mary Smyth Duffy) can be likened to a documentary film: it juxtaposes some 380 rare photographs, most of them never previously published, with the actual first-person words of participants -- painstakingly culled from diaries, memoirs, letters, and biographies, or contributed expressly for this book. These delightful anecdotal texts provide a fascinating inside look at celebrated writers at work and at play, allowing them to express themselves (about their lives, work, loves, and even hates). By turns witty, irreverent, and inspirational, together these voices produce an unforgettable chorus celebrating our national literature and those who produce it.
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"Hilarious, outrageous, gossip-ridden, exhausting, and egotistical, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference is the oldest writers' conference in the U.S. This book shows the conference at its best: Young writers can actually learn how to make a living writing fiction and poetry, as well as how to improve their craft. Whose Woods These Are also reveals the conference at its worst: hierarchical, arrogant, bickering, conniving. This beautiful, photo-laden volume recounts the history of the conference through its succession of directors, from Joe Battell to Ted Morrison to John Ciardi to Robert Pack, and its roster of visiting writers, important literary figures such as Robert Frost, Truman Capote, Archibald Macleish, Harry Crews, Linda Pastan, and Donald Justice––even the chef who introduced middle-class America to French cooking, Julia Child. The personal involvement of the author in the conference contributes an inside perspective and authority to the book. A must for libraries, especially academic ones, because it contains valuable information for researchers, as well as firsthand anecdotes, sometimes infuriating, usually funny, and always engaging, concerning some of the literary greats and not-so-greats of our time." ––BOOKLIST
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"A worthy tribute to those writers -- so many gone -- who gave so much of themselves to make Bread Loaf the most successful and longest-lasting writers' conference in the country...Lucid and witty narrative history." ––Boston Book Review
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"Anecdotes of the lit'ry life abound in David Haward Bain's Whose Woods These Are....The testimonies are diverse, culled from diaries, memoirs and autobiography." ––Robert Taylor, Boston Sunday Globe

" extraordinary glimpse in words and pictures of some of the 20th century's more accomplished writers....A joy to read, it highlights the serious nature of the writer's craft." ––Chris Bohjalian, Vermont Life
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"The spirit of Robert Frost animates the title and dominates the text of this in-house history of America's oldest writers' conference." ––The New Yorker

"A loving but not overly sentimental portrait of Bread Loaf...the sense of community is vividly displayed. Bain does an excellent job of weaving the inside personalities with the events of the country: World War II, the Red Scare, the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam and the grandiose 80s. Bread Loaf is a literary simile of these times." ––Chapel Hill News
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"...a rich, anecdotal glimpse of the legendary literary haven." ––Harper's Bazaar

" one of the recipients of the benefits of Bread Loaf, a Vermont retreat for aspiring poets, novelists and non-fiction writers. Snapshots of famous writers reclining on the lawn or rocking on the verandah accompany Bain's narrative...As at any gathering of the talented, personal relations were not always placid, but the primary preoccupation remained the development of writing talent." ––Washington Post Book World
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"Painstakingly researched
and lovingly and simply communicated."
Free Press
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