Hope To Gain

March 17, 2008

What do you hope to gain from attendance at the Conference? (Use additional paper if necessary.)
        — question on application form for the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference
            (a two-inch space is given)

It went in the mail this morning, two weeks later than I’d planned, but still three days before the deadline. (“Applicants are strongly encouraged to apply early.” For me, three days ahead is early.) The manuscript came in at 5300 words, 700 words under the limit. It’s a reworking and extension of the “Gina and the Cat” excerpt I’ve posted as a sample. I did nothing this past week except work on it, neglecting housework, thank-you notes to the people who remembered my birthday, and skipping another trip to California (Pennsylvania) to see my team play. As a friend said of his own manuscript that we’ll address tomorrow night, “it is the roughest first draft I’ve ever circulated to a workshop,” and he was talking about showing a piece to people he loves and trusts.

I wrote my “hope to gain” essay this morning:

This is my sixth application to Bread Loaf. That means that this is also my sixth selection of my “strongest unpublished work” and my sixth “hope to gain” statement. I wrote last year that it’s getting harder and harder to avoid repeating myself. This year I’m not even going to try. Here it is, the raison d’etre for applying to Bread Loaf: “I want what I always want — the fellowship, the encouragement, the craft classes, the lectures, the reader responses, the readings in the theater, the readings in the Blue Parlor, the air, the light, the joy.”

I can’t say if the manuscript I am submitting is my “strongest” unpublished work. Except for one very early story published in my college literary magazine in an anniversary issue (I was on the founding staff, and my contribution was solicited), all of my fiction qualifies as unpublished. Because of my experiences at Bread Loaf, I have, I believe, made progress as a fiction writer. Last year I was awarded a residency on the strength of a manuscript and an admissions package crafted from tutelage and “how to get a residency” advice I got at Bread Loaf.

This year’s offering grew from my time at that residency. It is an expansion of a fragment of my novel that one Bread Loaf faculty member and two fellows (in different years) told me could be a stand-alone story. Like much of my work, it is uneven, but the determination to struggle with it is a gift my time at Bread Loaf has given me, reason enough to want to come back.

For a number of years I was a reader for Pennsylvania’s “no child left behind” test. I remember one fifth grader who, frustrated in his effort to explain why a character in a short story was feeling lonely, wrote that he didn’t know the right answer and was feeling very scared about that because all he wanted to do was “go to sixth grade and be with my friends.” (I gave him the top points for that, and never again served as a reader, determining to earn my Bread Loaf tuition some other way.)

I feel much like that fifth grader today. I offer something I am working on, and I repeat myself once again: “I hope to gain what I always hope to gain, and what I have always received — encouragement, honest and helpful feedback, recognition, and hope.”

The notification letters are mailed May 25. Cross your fingers. Say your prayers. Propitiate your gods.

To be included on the notify list, e-mail me:
margaretdeangelis [at] gmail [dot] com (replace the brackets with @ and a period)

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