Guest post: J. Michael Fay on Bread Loaf, 1978

A couple of weeks ago, I saw this article online, A 26-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-August, 1977, and immediately remembered that author, J. Michael Fay, had talked about his time at the Bread Loaf Conference. When I asked, he told me he was there the year following and that he remembered his time fondly. So I asked if he would write about that time …

Bread Loaf 1978
by Michael Fay

I was thrilled to attend the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers’ Program in 1978 with financial support from Alberta Culture. There were 850 applicants that year and only 230 were accepted. The buzz in Vermont that summer was all about two key presenters, John Gardner and John Irving.

Gardner was a key theoretician in the literary community with his classic On Moral Fiction. Irving was on the verge of entering the super-star stratosphere with The World According to Garp. And for two weeks in the mountains of Vermont, those two icons seemed to have permanent circles of supporters surrounding them, day and night.

As presenters, they each soared in his own way: Gardner, the philosopher, and Irving, the raconteur.

It was all magic for me, thousands of miles away from my home in Camrose, Alberta, taking it all in with thirsty relish.

Gardner was all about the head, the structural issues that built strong stories and novels. Irving was all about the heart, the beating centre of a tale that enraptured the reader.

And there were more than these two and others who made formal presentations in the theatre.

Oh my! My fellow students and the carefully selected young writers, working as assistants and fellows, were on their way to successful careers. I only mention two; both had a profound impact on my writing.

Meredith Sue Willis was an amazing novelist who dug deep into the soil of Appalachia to weave tales of intensity and resonance. Richard Ford was a spare and cerebral stylist who examined American life with a probing scalpel.

And thirty-three years later I carry their words as inspiration as I settle in front of a blank white screen and dare to create people and places and events which lurk inside of me and clamor to come to life.

Here’s a photo of Michael taken around this time …

Michael - JPG14022016

J. Michael Fay has published three long-form short stories under my IslandShorts imprint and I’m pleased to announce that his most recent publication, Passion, will be released very soon!

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10 responses

  1. […] my other blog, reminiscing his early days as a writer and conferences he attended during the 1970s. Guest post: J. Michael Fay on Bread Loaf, 1978 Guest Post: J. Michael Fay on Banff, 1976 Guest Post: J. Michael Fay on Remembering Alexandra […]

  2. […] Fay has been guest-posting here about his early days as a writer, attending the Bread Loaf Conference in 1978 and as a participant at the Banff Centre in 1976. Michael is back now to tell us about writing in […]

  3. […] couple of days ago, Michael Fay wrote this guest blog post on his experience at the Bread Loaf Writing Conference in 1978. Here’s Michael for a return […]

  4. bettyjanehegerat

    These are names that cause me to swoon as well, Michael. 🙂 But also remind me of the many people who have told me they write because back in the late 70s, a man named Michael Fay wandered into Calgary fresh from working with W.O.Mitchell at the Banff Centre. They talk about writing nights that took them from the Alexandra Centre to the Truck Stop Cafe until the wee hours of the morning. They talk about being liberated by the freefall method they learned from Michael. The AWCS is still going strong, and those of who didn’t have the good fortune to meet you, were introduced to freefall and it’s been the fundamental underpinning of our writing process for years. And years. And years. 🙂 Your words of inspiration live on as well.

    1. Stay tuned, bjH! Michael has another guest post in the works on that very topic!

  5. Your excitement still shines through. Talk about being over the moon,and why not? Wow. 🙂

  6. Talk about jealous! Gardner and Irving were two of my biggest influences (not to mention Ford). To have rubbed elbows with them, or even just to hear them speak on writing, would have been beyond life-changing. The closest I came to that kind of figure was just a few years ago, at an event featuring Seamus Heaney — and he wasn’t chopped liver!

    Thanks for the inspiring tale, Michael!

  7. I’ve always been kinda star-struck with Michael’s stories of having worked on his writing with Richard Ford … sigh!

  8. These conferences stick with us forever. Imagine meeting John Irving!! So pleased you kept writing.

  9. Judging from your last paragraph, what an impact their words/the experience had. Marvelous to have something so meaningful tucked in your pocket. Cool

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