Literary Boroughs #14: Montpelier, Vermont

The Literary Boroughs series will explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally. Posts are by no means exhaustive and we encourage our readers to contribute in the comment section. The series will run on our blog from May 2012 until AWP13 in Boston. Please enjoy the fourteenth post on Montpelier, Vermont by Kris Underwood. -Andrea Martucci, Ploughshares Managing Editor

Situated in the valley of the Green Mountains, Montpelier has been called quaint, idyllic, and weird. The locals have taken to calling it “Montpeculiar.” Full of writers, poets, musicians as well as lawyers and statesmen/women, the city is home to the Vermont Statehouse, Hubbard Park and a branch of the Winooski River, which runs through the downtown area. The winters here are something to be reckoned with-it has not been unheard of to get three or more feet of snow from a single storm and below freezing temperatures in January (one year: -20 degrees Fahrenheit).  Summertime and fall are the best time to visit-there are more things to do and see. Fall is usually tourist season with picture-perfect New England vistas.

City: Montpelier, Vermont

What the city is known for: Government, higher education, tourism, abundance of nature, being the smallest state capitol in terms of population in the U.S. (the 2010 census counted 7,855), the Green Mountains, a “local community”- Local food movement, sustainability and organic availability.

Resident Writers (or, those who have a very strong tie to the city and area. An incomplete list): Howard Frank Mosher, Sydney Lea, Geoff Hewitt, Bob Messing, David Mamet, Galway Kinnell, Barry Goldensohn, David Dobbs, Katherine Paterson, Thomas Christopher Greene, David Budbill, Jennifer Mc Mahon, Julia Alvarez, Chris Bojhalian, Ann Armbrecht, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Howard Norman, Jody Gladding, Jane Shore, An Na, Sharon Darrow, Ellen Lesser, Christopher Noel, Ann Cardinal.

A few we lost recently: Ruth Stone, Hayden Carruth, Grace Paley

Literary Reference: Like Lesser Gods (1988), Mari Tomasi, takes place over the course of 1920’s-40’s and tells the story of the men who worked in the granite quarries in Barre (about 15/20 minutes from Montpelier), Vermont. Many of Chris Bojhalian’s books are set in fictional Vermont towns. The fictional town of Stoveington, is mentioned in Stephen King’s novels The Stand (where the CDC plague center was), The Shining (Jack Torrence taught at a school there) and Christine. “Stovington was only thirty miles west of Barre, accessible either by Vermont Route 61 or I-89.” –The Stand, Chapter 36. Casting Spells (2008) by Barbara Bretton takes place in fictional Sugar Maple, Vermont, near Montpelier-the book mentions “Montpelier police taking part in the investigation”. This is actually a series and has two more books, both taking place in Sugar Maple.

Where to learn: Two of the top low-residency MFA programs in the country (according to Poets & Writers Magazine) are here: Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier and Goddard College, 15 minutes away in Plainfield.

VCFA is a low-residency college that offers a MFA Young Adult & Children’s Literature program. Other programs include MFA in Writing, Music Composition, Visual Arts, and Graphic Design. Writing faculty includes Sue William Silverman, Matthew Dickman and Robert Vivian. Click here for a list of MFA Writing faculty. Recent visiting writers: Claudia Emerson, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Brian Leung, Kevin Young, Dan Chaon. Writing residencies are every summer and winter, lasting about two weeks. VCFA residency traditions include barbeques, the talent shows and a game of softball-prose writers vs. poets.  Writing Post-graduate Conference takes place every August. Hunger Mountain is the literary journal housed at VCFA.

Goddard has several student-run literary journals, most notably, The Clockhouse Review. It offers low-residency degrees for MA, MFA, BA and BFA in Creative Writing, Education, Interdisciplinary Studies and others. Goddard is also home to WGDR, the college-based community radio station.

The Community College of Vermont has a campus in Montpelier and offers Associate degrees in Arts, Science and Applied Science as well as certificates in entry-level work skills.

Where to find reading material: Kellogg-Hubbard Library has been a mainstay for over a century and has had the tradition of being funded by donations, bequeathments and its book sales. In 2001, the Patrick J. Leahy wing was added, bringing the children’s library out of the basement and upstairs. It also has numerous programs and events supporting the arts.

Montpelier has several independent, locally owned book stores: Bear Pond Books has regular events most of the year-readings, book clubs (the mystery book club seems to be quite popular), etc. Some visiting authors: Howard Frank Mosher, Chris Bojhalian, Gesine Bullock-Prado, Madeleine Kunin, Donald Hall, Katherine Paterson and Archer Mayor, to name a few. You can check their events calendar online for more information. Rivendell Books is a new and used bookstore with rare collectibles, and has a turtle in the back named Veruca. The Book Garden offers new and used books with a special focus on graphic novels and games.

Where to get published: Hunger Mountain, journal of the arts from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Launched in 2002, Hunger Mountain is both an online and print journal of the arts. Publishes: fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, visual art, young adult and children’s writing, interviews, reviews, and craft essays. The print issue comes out annually in the fall; online content changes on a regular basis.  They accept submissions year-round.

Music & Literature: Taylor Davis-Van Atta is at the head of this online site aiming to publish critical literature on neglected authors, artists and composers. Most of the work is solicited, but they also accept unsolicited submissions.

Clockhouse Review is one of Goddard College’s literary journals. It’s funded by the Clockhouse Writer’s Conference, a conference for writing alumni of MFA graduates. As of 2011, it is a national open-submission journal.

Where to write: Capitol Grounds Café They’ve been around since 1998, roasting their own beans and serving some of the best coffee in town. Also: free wi-fi for the traveling writer.

La Brioche Café (partnered with New England Culinary Institute).  You’ll find very tasty pastries and other treats here, some of them made by NECI students. Coffee is pretty good. I used to write here all the time years ago (before wi-fi!), but have moved on to other places. Writers can enjoy free wi-fi here, too.

Both coffee houses feature local artists on a regular, rotating basis.

Kellogg-Hubbard Library has a great lawn for writing, watching people and lying out in the sun in summer. Upstairs, there are quiet work stations and comfy chairs where you can bring your laptop and write. Downstairs, a “computer island,” comprised of about twelve computers, is available for half-hour slots.  There is always some kind of art installment here.

Benches are situated all throughout the downtown area. Other spots: State capitol lawn. VCFA by the fountain, one of my favorite spots. Hubbard Park was created through a gift of 125 acres to the City of Montpelier by John E. Hubbard in 1899. It’s a popular place to hike, picnic and enjoy nature. One of the trails will lead you to an observation tower. It’s one of the tallest points in town and the view is spectacular. There have been stories of “strange occurrences” at the park. It always felt weird to me when I was up there.

Events/Festivals: Poem City (an annual event): PoemCity2012 (previously PoetryAlive!) took place during April in celebration of National Poetry Month in conjunction with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier Alive! and several other local businesses.

It featured exhibits, a full text display of nearly 200 poets throughout town at various stores, readings, workshops and poetry-related events the entire month of April. All events are open to the public and free of charge.

Vermont State Poet Laureate Program (in conjunction with The Vermont Arts Council): Sydney Lea was appointed last year (2011) by Governor Shumlin for this four year appointment. A public ceremony was held in November 2011 in Mr. Lea’s honor at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Montpelier. He succeeded the late Ruth Stone.

Vermont Reads is a state-wide, one book community reading program given by the Vermont Humanities Council. It was launched in 2003, with Witness by Karen Hesse (set in Vermont). This year, it has been announced that Bull Run by Paul Fleischman will be the featured community read. The second book is The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane.  This is part of their Reading and Discussion programs.

The Vermont Humanities Council has a variety of regular programs, free to the public: First Wednesdays-talks on various subjects by authors, artists, scholars, etc., at public libraries around the state, including Kellogg-Hubbard library in Montpelier.

During the VCFA residencies, readings by visiting writers, students and faculty are open to the public.

Write the Book Podcast: “radio show and podcast for writers and curious readers, featuring interviews with authors, poets, agents, editors, and illustrators.” Based in Burlington, Vermont, but covers many literary events and authors from Montpelier/Central Vermont and around the entire state. This podcast is run by Shaleigh Shapiro, a recent graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Next post: September 5 | Indianapolis, IN…

Bio: Kris Underwood is the Social Media Manager for Hunger Mountain, journal at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Some of her work has appeared in Literary Mama, The Barefoot Review and Poetry Midwest. Follow her on Twitter: @krisunderwood or visit her blog at


(VCFA photo by VCFA staff. All others are by the author.)

Similar Posts