11 May, 2011

Bussing Tables, Writing Books at Bread Loaf

I’m over at the Huffington Post today writing about the waiters at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. There’s an excerpt (see below). You can read the full article over at the Books site.

When the doors bang shut behind you, in that way that old, wooden doors do, and the odor of morning nourishments, the eggs, the blueberries, the toast, rush forward to greet you, the writer who has just come in, has but one thought, a thought only tangentially related to the business of writing: where the fuck is the coffee? Waiting tables has long been the fallback of artists — the entire city of New York is built on the premise that the dreams of artists will carry it through another 24 hour cycle of food and drink — but can it really translate into literature? Apparently, at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, yes.

It is May, and in approximately two weeks 25 people will find out that they are being offered a coveted “waitership” at Bread Loaf for 2012. While there is, surely, a large proportion of humanity that remains bemused that writers actually crave this lowly service-industry position, a fair number of them do just that and with good reason. At the moment of my writing this, this year alone, I count two former Bread Loaf waiters whose novels have reached the NYT best seller list, Dolen Perkins Valdez (Wench, Amistad, Reprint January, 2011) and Heidi Durrow (The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, Algonquin, Reprint 2011), and another two described, respectively, as “Written with the elegance and quiet menace of snowfall” (Alexi Zentner‘s spine-tingling novel Touch, W.W. Norton, April 2011) and “timely beyond measure, (conveying) with impressive precision and nuance how we are vectors on the grid of global capital; how difficult it is to even attempt to be an authentic, let alone admirable, human being when we are, first and last, cash flow” (Peter Mountford‘s A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2011). Urban Waite has had his book (The Terror of Living, Little, Brown, 2011), lauded coast to coast, most recently in the Boston Globe, and Patricia Engel‘s Vida (Grove, September 2010), has just been optioned for a movie.

Add to that Laura van den Berg‘s collection, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us (Danzc, 2010), Paul Yoon‘s short-stories, Once the Shore (Sarabande, 2010), winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award, Jennine Capo Crucet‘s How to Leave Hialeah (Iowa, 2010), and Tiphanie Yanique‘s How to Escape From a Leper Colony (Greywolf, 2010), not to mention a few books which bear mentioning though the publication date is in our, mercifully near, future, Eugene CrossFires of Our Choosing (Dzanc, 2012), Cathy Chung‘s Forgotten Country (Riverhead, 2012) and Justin TorresWe The Animals (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall, 2011), and you start to get the picture.

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The Books:

The Books:

On Sal Mal Lane

In the tradition of In the Time of the Butterflies and The Kite Runner, a tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

A Disobedient Girl

A Disobedient Girl is a compelling map of womanhood, its desires and loyalties, set against the backdrop of beautiful, politically turbulent, Sri Lanka.


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