The Flannery O'Connor Award and Bread Loaf Conference: Background information when reading After the Parade

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After the Parade

by Lori Ostlund

After the Parade by Lori Ostlund X
After the Parade by Lori Ostlund
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2015, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2016, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
The Flannery O'Connor Award and Bread Loaf Conference

Print Review

Most of us are familiar with high-profile book recognitions such as the Man Booker Prize or the National Book Award. There are many lesser known writing awards and programs that are prestigious and well known in literary circles. Lori Ostlund, author of After the Parade, can include two such recognitions as part of her biography: The Flannery O'Connor award and being accepted to attend the Bread Loaf Conference.

The Flannery O'Connor Award

Every year since 1983, the University of Georgia Press has considered manuscripts for the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, given annually to the two best short story collections or novellas. The competition, which charges a $30 fee per application, attracts nearly 300 entries per year. Winners are awarded $1,000 as well as the chance to have their work published by the university press, which has released more than 50 award-winning titles.

Ostlund was recognized with the 2009 Flannery O'Connor Award for The Bigness of the World, which was be re-released by Scribner in February 2016. The book also won the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award and the California Book Award for First Fiction. Much like her debut novel, the short story collection, which ranges in setting from Minnesota to Malaysia, shows how people try to escape from tricky situations only to find that a new life is just as difficult.

Other winners of the Flannery O'Connor award include renowned authors such as Antonya Nelson, Hester Kaplan, Bill Roorbach, and Ha Jin – some of whom are known for their short stories, and others who have since moved on to novels.

Controversy struck in 2005 when the University of Georgia Press withdrew Brad Vice's Flannery O'Connor Award for The Bear Bryant Funeral Train after allegations that he plagiarized part of one story from Carl Carmer's Stars Fell on Alabama (1934).

The Bread Loaf Conference

View of Victorian Farmhouse, primary site of Bread Loaf Conference In August 2010 Lori Ostlund received a fellowship to attend the Bread Loaf Conference, an annual summer writers' workshop in Ripton, Vermont on Middlebury College's Bread Loaf campus. The conference has run since 1926 and was originally closely associated with Robert Frost, who attended 29 times.

The core of the ten-day conference is workshops where each writer shares their work and receives feedback and constructive criticism from staff and fellow attendees. As opposed to a writers' retreat, Bread Loaf is designed to be collaborative and educational rather than just a chance to get uninterrupted writing done. Only about 17% of applicants are accepted. Most pay their own way, but there are also some scholarships that allow participants to earn their tuition by serving meals in the dining hall. The conference has been called the "oldest and most prestigious writers' conference in the country" by The New Yorker. While writers' workshops are a dime a dozen, the prestige comes from membership in an exclusive club, from having a chance at seeing how "the sausage is made in literary America," said participant Michael Bourne in an article for The Millions: "What Bread Loaf offers is not just the opportunity to rub shoulders with eminent authors and publishing worthies, but a chance to do so at a time and place when their usually trip-wired bullshit detectors are disarmed."

The Bread Loaf campus (named after the unincorporated community, Bread Loaf, in Ripton) was willed to Middlebury College by nature lover and local newspaper owner, Joseph Battell. He purchased more than 30,000 acres of forest and farmland in the Green Mountains and donated it all to Middlebury. The college established a graduate school of English and American literature and housed it on the Bread Loaf campus.

Of her experience at the conference, Ostlund reflects: "One of my best experiences as a writer happened when I was a fellow at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in 2010. There, I read at the Little Theater for one of the toughest yet most appreciative audiences that one can imagine: a roomful of fellow writers...What made the experience particularly gratifying, beyond the opportunity to give a reading to a theater full of writers and to meet great people, was that I came home with a pile of books by my fellow fellows, which I am now reading my way through."

The writers' workshop is not the only Bread Loaf conference. June 2014 saw the first annual Bread Loaf Orion Writers' Conference, a collaboration between the Bread Loaf Conferences, Orion magazine, and Middlebury College's Environmental Studies Program. The inaugural Bread Loaf Translators' Conference was also held in June 2014.

Picture of Victorian farmhouse at Bread Loaf from Middlebury College

Article by Rebecca Foster

This article was originally published in October 2015, and has been updated for the July 2016 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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