When Selia Linowes ’15 received the email telling her she had been accepted to this past summer’s Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, her reaction was a storm of emotions. “First I put my hands over my mouth and started to cry. Then I called to my partner, Morgan, and told her that I got in. We started jumping up and down and screaming.”
The prestigious graduate-level writing program at Middlebury College’s School of English in Ripton, Vermont, accepted only 26 percent of applicants, according to Linowes. She was one of only eight undergraduates out of the nearly 200 participants.
Linowes, who will graduate from the University in December, is majoring in English with a creative writing emphasis. She says she only began writing seriously when she started taking poetry courses from Ben Grossberg, associate professor of English and director of the creative writing program, during her second year. She worked on the poems she submitted with her application to Bread Loaf in classes she took from Grossberg, whom she considers her mentor.
Her adventure began when she applied to Bread Loaf as an assignment for the English Capstone in Creative Writing course taught by T. Stores, also an associate professor in the Department of English and Modern Languages. The class, offered in the spring 2015 semester, is designed as a career-building experience.
“One of my capstone requirements is that students submit creative work to journals, conferences, workshops, and residencies multiple times (almost every week) during the semester,” says Stores.
“Students learn how to format work and write cover letters, and they set up a system to track their submissions and begin sending work out. I always tell them to aim for both aspirational journals and those that have somewhat better odds for acceptance of work, and usually several achieve publication in small literary journals by the end of the semester.”
Bread Loaf has a long tradition of gathering emerging writers like Linowes to work closely with a diverse and talented faculty. Attendees experience the intensity—and challenge—of working under the guidance of notable writers.
Linowes was assigned to a 10-person workshop led by poet Tom Sleigh, whose many awards include the John Updike Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Kingsley Tufts Award, and the Shelby Prize from the Poetry Society of America. He is a Distinguished Professor in the MFA program at CUNY–Hunter College in Manhattan.
“I loved working with Tom Sleigh,” says Linowes. “I was thrilled to be in his workshop.” Asked if he was tough with her about her work, Linowes says yes, but that the critiques within the class had to be constructive. “When I met with him one-on-one, he was a little harsher. But I loved that. You want your work to be effective. He gave me wonderful feedback that I will apply to my future work.”
As it turned out, August was a very big month for Linowes. She had submitted three poems to the online Crab Fat Literary Magazine earlier. “I found out that the poems had been accepted about a week before I got the email that I had been accepted to Bread Loaf.”
“I’ve been inspired by this experience to apply to other conferences,” says Linowes, adding that the Bread Loaf experience helped her become comfortable introducing herself as a poet.