A Request for Accountability in Our Shared Spaces

The Offing hosts the following letter in the tradition of publishing work that improves literary spaces. The Offing supports initiating conversation toward this goal even if we are not immediately connected to events. Those who would like to add their voice to the letter should complete the form located at this link. The Offing staff will update signatories every 2-3 days through December 31, 2023. 

To the administrators of Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference,

As writers who are well aware of the Middlebury Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference’s much-lauded reputation, we were excited to be invited to the ten-day conference in August 2023, which welcomed more than 200 scholars, participants, contributors, staff, faculty, agents, and guests from all over the country to Ripton, Vermont. We were able to make lasting connections and it was an experience that we will not soon forget. However, the way that the organization handled the COVID-19 outbreak at Bread Loaf showed an astonishing lack of regard for the attendees’ health and overall well-being.

By the end of the conference, at least 28 attendees had reported positive cases—over 10% of attending members. A lack of masking and testing norms, plus a wholly inadequate contingency plan meant the outbreak could not be mitigated. Bread Loaf did not have contact tracing for how many attendees tested positive after the conference. It remains unknown how far the outbreak has spread.  

This disregard for the health of the writing community is profoundly ableist—characterized by assumptions about who makes up the writing community, that disability is atypical, and that disabled people should simply alter their own behaviors (such as mask-wearing or declining to participate in events). Rather than placing the burden of care on the ill and disabled, we are asking that Bread Loaf support a community of care from the start, so the conference is accessible to all. If disabled people are prioritized and cared for, then we are all cared for. It is in this spirit that we write this letter to you.

COVID presents a greater threat to immunocompromised people, and the risk of chronic impairment from this disease is also high, as at least 10% of cases result in long COVID. A health policy that acknowledges these risks and takes steps to prevent vulnerable people from falling ill is an essential part of ensuring disabled and immunocompromised folks can participate fully in the conference.

We would like to note that the CDC reports 27% of all US adults have a disability, and 6 in 10 adults have a chronic condition. These rates are higher in communities of color, as has long been documented. Disabled people are disproportionately people of color, and therefore Bread Loaf’s actions contributed to further harming disabled, immunocompromised, and multiply marginalized attendees. 

The CDC also notes that only 1 in 4 US adults have a usual health provider. Writers are often precariously employed with inadequate access to health insurance. It reflects poorly on this organization to assume that invited writers had resources to adequately get care and recover in the event of illness.

Bread Loaf’s lack of response to a highly contagious disease fed into an environment of mistrust and unnecessary stress. Not only were participants put at undue risk, Bread Loaf’s policies also compromised visiting editors and agents, many of whom may have unknowingly met with COVID-positive attendees. Areas in which we feel that Bread Loaf’s COVID plan was inadequate include:

  • Lack of masking norms: While we are fully aware that Middlebury College’s COVID policy is such that masking and contact tracing cannot be legally mandated, there are many steps the conference can take to encourage a community norm of masking. It was only after the outbreak began that signs were posted at doorways strongly encouraging masking. However, the large outbreak may have been better contained if more steps to encourage masking had been taken up front, such as: earlier and more widespread signage encouraging masking, offering masks at the door during indoor events, and announcing that masks are encouraged before indoor readings.
  • Inadequate data:  After six cases, administration stopped informing constituents of the number of cases on campus. Without this knowledge, it was impossible for individuals to measure risk and make informed decisions about their health. Positive COVID cases were also only reported by individuals who had voluntarily taken tests for the safety and protection of the community. We believe there were many more cases of COVID on campus than those reported. While rates of asymptomatic and person-to-person transmission vary, they still play a key role in COVID transmission overall. The variant that was rapidly spreading prior to the conference had a higher transmission rate and greater evasive capacity of immune-generated antibodies and vaccines than previous variants. We may never know how many people actually had COVID-19 at Bread Loaf because we don’t know who tested unless they disclosed their testing status, or they left after falling ill.
  • Lack of incentive to test: Due to the publishing prestige and opportunities provided by Bread Loaf, which includes workshops, agents, and editor meetings, (all of which had to be in-person, with no online alternatives), the environment and setup of the conference disincentivized testing for attendees to test for COVID, for fear of testing positive and being forced to leave the campus. Because there were no options for deferral, and no clear guidance for reimbursement (and reimbursement was unequally offered and provided to those who did test positive), attendees were forced to put themselves and each other at risk to access these opportunities.
  • Lack of support for those who tested positive: Only one night of housing was provided to those who tested positive, and thereafter no support for travel. It is unreasonable to expect that individuals could recover from COVID in one night. Furthermore, encouraging individuals who test positive to leave the conference and travel is a danger to the surrounding community, as well as to individuals who may have little or no support system in the Vermont area. Due to the lack of support for those who tested positive, participants were disincentivized from testing, possibly further endangering the Bread Loaf community.
  • Lack of an inclusion plan for those who tested positive: Those who tested positive were dropped from any succeeding correspondences with Bread Loaf staff, effectively excommunicating them. Furthermore, Bread Loaf sent remaining attendees an email emphasizing “personal responsibility” to combat an airborne virus, stigmatizing those who tested positive and avoiding accountability for conference policies. 

While we are fully aware that Middlebury’s COVID policy is such that masking and contact tracing cannot be legally mandated, we want to ask: who benefits from Middlebury’s COVID policy? And why didn’t Bread Loaf institute other, allowable measures to protect its community?

We believe Bread Loaf should be accountable to the community it serves and needs to do better to ensure the accessibility of the resources it offers. We ask the administration to consider implementing more supportive, equitable, transparent, and effective protocols in the future, including:

  • All participants, faculty, staff, and guests must submit a negative PCR COVID-19 test before arrival. Everyone must test twice in the first three days. Attendees will be encouraged to bring their own tests, but enough free and viable tests will be provided to anyone who might need them. 
  • A community care meeting should be held as part of orientation and welcoming remarks for the attendees to collectively decide on norms for caring for each other.
  • Whenever possible, lectures, workshops, and events should be held outdoors. Having outdoor options readily available allows more opportunities for collective participation.
  • In the event participants do test positive, there should be an option to stay and isolate somewhere on campus, where food and access to medical care are provided. Arrangements should be made for sick attendees to be able to still participate in the conference online. This is especially important as Ripton, Vermont is an area with which most participants have little familiarity, and to protect the local community from getting sick, as well.
  • Contact tracing should not be the sole responsibility of individuals who have fallen ill. Those who shared a bathroom and residence, or attended a class or event with a person who contracted COVID should be made aware of the exposure by the administration. Transparency about the number of cases is essential for individuals to make informed decisions about risk. In-person announcements about case counts could also help curb the guilt sick individuals feel around the disease’s spread.
  • Proper sanitation protocol should be implemented: soap, water, and hand sanitizers should be readily available, and common areas and shared spaces should be disinfected daily, in addition to providing disposable masks in the common areas.
  • We urge Bread Loaf administration to consult an educational DEI and disability justice expert to implement changes to make the Bread Loaf campus and conference more accessible. 

We are grateful to have convened on campus, and the community we built will hopefully last a long time. We recognize the extraordinary work of the staff, custodians, chefs, and the faculty who labored tirelessly to offer us a life-changing experience. However, this outbreak had a physical, mental, financial, and emotional effect on participants’ well-being that tarnished the experience of the conference. We cannot, in good conscience, recommend others to attend this conference in the future until there are basic mechanisms in place for the safety of participants and the community.

The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference has continued for the last 98 years because of its willingness to change. Today, with Bread Loaf faculty Vievee Francis’s encouragement, we come to you with immense concern and care for the program with suggestions to facilitate a safer, accessible, and inclusive learning environment.



Dure Ahmed
Diana Cejas
Soleil David
emet ezell
Itiola Jones
Laura Mauldin
Leila C. Nadir
Seoyoung Park
Annie Tan
Jodie Vinson

Also including: 

Jenna Abrams
Akosua Z Afiriyie-Hwedie
Helen Armstrong
aishvarya arora
Ray B
Brianna Barnes
Jeeyeon Barnes
Gabrielle Bates
Krys Malcolm Belc
Katharine Beutner
Daniela Bologna
Rory Boothe
Brenda Jo Brueggemann
Jasmine Butler
Akshi C
Rosa Castellano
Holli Cederholm
Shaira Chaer
Dri Chiu Tattersfield
Kristine Chung Salcedo
Emma Copley Eisenberg
Stephanie Cuepo Wobby
Chae Dalton
Carly DeMento
Courtney Denelle
Aran Donovan
Ann Douglas
Cody Dunn
Ysabelle Duran
Alysandra Dutton
Abdelrahman ElGendy
Anne Elliott
Hannah Ensor
Jennie Evenson
Gabrielle Fernandez
M. Gese
David Groff
Alyssa Harad
Lisa Hofmann-Kuroda
Trista Hurley-Waxali
Praise Idika
Sabrina Imbler
Milly Itzhak
Elise J.
A. Tony Jerome
Yeva Johnson
Shiv K
Minah Kashani
Tobi Kassim
Porochista Khakpour
Lydia Kim
Gowri Koneswaran
Theodore Lau
Julie Lauterbach-Colby
ara lebeck
karen lee
Cat Ingrid Leeches
Mikaila Mariel Lemonik Arthur
Diann Leo-Omine
Elana Lev Friedland
Connie Li
Laurence Li
Mengyin Lin
Astra Lincoln
Zefyr Lisowski
Anni Liu
Rebecca Liu
Thomas Lawrence Long
Marisha Lozada
Alexa Luborsky
Jennifer Lunden
Shanhuan Manton
Stephani E. D. McDow
Amanda Mei Kim
Sequoia Nagamatsu
Jordan Nakamura
Jami Nakamura Lin
Kathy Nguyen
Janika Oza
Alexandria Petrassi, Split This Rock
Patricia Polach
Jaclyn Rachel
Deanna Ren
Allie Rigby
Samantha Paige Rosen
Lia Russell-Self
Sophia S.
M. Sanchez
Shuchi Saraswat
Dani Sarta
Effie Seiberg
Layli Shirani
Jess Silfa, President, Disabled and D/deaf Writers Caucus
Porscha Simmons
Jen Soriano
Margo Steines
SJ Stephens
Swati Sudarsan
E Sullivan
Kyla Sullivan
Eshani Surya
Stephanie Lane Sutton
Susan Tacent
Jay Takane
Jenna Tang
Caitlin Thomson Jans
Mai Tran
t. tran le
Zoe Tuck
Kay Ulanday Barrett
Alison Wallach
Elizabeth Weinberg
The Cyborg Jillian Weise
M. G. Wheatley
El Williams III
Kyle Williams
Chavonn Williams Shen
Summer C.J. Wrobel
Lee-Hwang Yujin
Sienna Zeilinger
Jacqui Zeng
Xueyi Zhou

Those who would like to add their name on this list, should complete the form located at this link. The Offing staff will update signatories every 2-3 days through December 31, 2023. 

Except, All Of Us

“From Victorian literature to contemporary essays, poetry to pop culture TV shows, the following excerpts illustrate how the seeds for violence are planted, and the deep recesses where they take root.”

With Liberty, and Justice, for All.

I invite you to orient yourself toward justice, to move as one who believes that your freedom is inextricably linked to mine, and act beyond your comfort or convenience.