A New Bread Loaf Rises in Italy

Jennifer De Leon

For the past eighty-six years the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference has welcomed both emerging and accomplished writers to its trademark workshops and lectures during a two-week literary commingling held each August at the historic Bread Loaf Inn at Middlebury College in Vermont. This September Bread Loaf will expand its workshop to the Italian island of Sicily, with a condensed program of classes in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction taught by Ellen Bryant Voigt, Margot Livesey, and Patricia Hampl, respectively.

The weeklong program, which will run from Sunday, September 18, to Saturday, September 24, aims to provide a small group of writers with the Bread Loaf experience in the city of Erice, a walled medieval town with winding cobblestone streets, restored churches, and an ancient castle. Participants will have the opportunity to focus on their craft in an environment with views of the Mediterranean Sea and the Sicilian countryside.

Writers will stay at the Hotel Villa San Giovanni, part of a complex of stone buildings that includes the twelfth-century-San Giovanni Battista church and a refurbished rectory where workshops and craft classes will take place. “Being in Erice will demand that participants think constantly about their relationship to history and the past, and thus provides a different kind of access to memory, that great source of writerly inspiration,” says Michael Collier, director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

The goal of the program is to provide an intensive and intimate experience for writers, so each of the workshops will be limited to eight participants. Writers will meet as a group four times during the week and also break away for individual conferences with faculty. Throughout the week, Voigt, Livesey, and Hampl will offer craft classes to all members of the conference, as well as readings, echoing the traditional Bread Loaf model.

“We’ll have a day off in the middle of the session, the same as we do during the summer session,” says Collier. “But instead of having a picnic at the Homer Noble Farm and a tour of Robert Frost’s writing cabin, we’ll have an outing to Segesta, with its beautifully preserved fifth-century BCE Doric temple, and then maybe lunch in Marsala with a tour of a local wine producer.”  

Collier first scouted the Sicily workshop in 2007 while he was spending a month at the Rockefeller Foundation’s conference center in Bellagio, Italy. He visited Erice to see if it was a feasible site for a language program for Middlebury. After Collier spent three days roaming the city, which rises two thousand feet above the plains of western Sicily, he realized it would be a perfect place to offer a version of Bread Loaf.

“Erice is a small city and its beauty in part comes from its connection to Mediterranean civilization. It’s not sublime in the way that Ripton, Vermont, and the Green Mountains are,” Collier says, “but it possesses its own concentrated and heightened experience.”

The 2011 workshops are filled, but Bread Loaf is already accepting queries about the 2012 program. Tuition this year is $2,295, which covers the conference program, hotel accommodations, meals, and transportation to and from the airport, but does not include airfare. While there is no financial assistance for the inaugural year, Collier hopes to offer scholarships to the Sicily session in the future. For more information, visit www.middlebury.edu/blwc/Sicily.                

Jennifer De Leon is a writer living in Boston. She is working on a novel and editing an anthology of essays on higher education by Latina writers.