Debra Spark’s Latest Book Project Rises to the Occasion

Humanities4 MIN READ

The English professor co-edits Breaking Bread, an anthology of essays about food, with proceeds helping to address Maine’s hunger problem

In her new book, Debra Spark collected 68 essays and found recurring themes such as favorite food or a hated food, associations between food and family, love or grief in the face of loss, and food and community.
By Dominick Leskiw ’21 Photography by Caitlin Penna and Gabe Souza
September 9, 2022

Meals make memories. Memories, in turn, become stories that connect, nourish, and inspire conversations among us.

Such stories fill the pages of Breaking Bread, an anthology of food essays written by Maine authors, co-edited by Professor of English Debra Spark and Deborah Joy Corey, her friend and author.

“I love editing,” Spark enthused when describing her role as co-editor of the book. Breaking Bread (Beacon Press, 2022) is the second anthology in Spark’s career; 20 Under 30, a collection of short stories by now-renowned young writers, was her first major publication. She has also written dozens of articles, short stories, and book reviews for Esquire, the New York Times, and other publications and has published four novels, two collections of short stories, and two books of essays on fiction writing.

Over the course of her varied career, Spark has grown well acquainted with Maine’s writing community, including Corey. In 2019, after learning about the prevalence of hunger in Maine, Corey founded a nonprofit in Castine called Blue Angel. The nonprofit, which began as a small garden, has since grown into a community-powered organization that delivers fresh produce from partner farms, homemade meals from friends and neighbors, and food from local eateries to people in need.

Breaking Bread Book Cover

Inspired by both the connective force and surprising deficit of food in her area, Corey began reaching out to writers throughout Maine for essays on memories surrounding food. In the preface to Breaking Bread, Corey writes, “The fact that many do not have fond food memories has stayed with me, making me examine my own food memories and wonder about those of others. What if we were to share our memories with one another, the good and the bad? What if we did something to start a broader conversation? Could sharing our stories be the catalyst to change, as it so often is?”

Spark was one of the writers Corey contacted. Corey then asked Spark to co-edit the anthology. In this role, Spark continued Corey’s work of reaching out to a diverse subset of Maine’s writing community, ranging from BIPOC authors to refugees, literary specialists to cookbook editors, professors to restaurant owners, and a few professional food writers as well.

Food basket
A food basket with items donated by Blue Angel Maine as seen on a stoop in Castine, Maine. (Photo by Gabe Souza.)

Corey had already reached out to some well-known current, former, and part-time Colby faculty when Spark joined the project. Spark added others, so Colby readers will find familiar names in the book, including Assistant Professor of English Sarah Braunstein, Professor of Education, Emerita Lyn Mikel Brown, Dana Professor of Creative Writing, Emerita Susan Kenney, and Spark herself.

Across the 68 essays Corey and Spark solicited, a handful of core themes recurred. “One was that people would write about an individual food … a favorite food or a hated food,” Spark recalled. Other writers focused on associations between food and family, reflecting on love, or grief in the face of loss. Some wrote about food and community, while others still wrote about the impact of food’s absence.

“One thing I found, and hope readers find, is that every time I read something, I had a story I wanted to tell back to the author,” she said. “If you read about someone else’s favorite food, you think about your own favorite food, or if someone else talks about their body image and food, you think about your own body image and food. I’m hoping that the anthology is engaging in that way, that it makes readers think about parts of their own life.”

Proceeds from Breaking Bread will benefit Blue Angel. In the case of some ticketed events at out-of-state bookstores, readings will help fund local hunger nonprofits, and in that way, help spread the book’s impact throughout New England.

Additionally, on Oct. 1, several Breaking Bread contributors will participate in the Maine Lit Fest at Greene Block + Studios in downtown Waterville. There will be a panel on food writing with cookbook authors and food journalists at 4 p.m., and a reading from the anthology by alumna Kate Russo ’04 and former professors Rick Russo and Jenny Boylan at 6 p.m. Members of the Waterville and broader Maine community are encouraged to attend, as are Colby students.

The Breaking Bread events capitalize on the upcoming annual theme of the Colby Center for the Arts and Humanities, “Food for Thought,” and Spark plans to incorporate food writing exercises into her fall fiction writing courses.

“We all eat, right?” Spark said. “What we eat can define us.” She hopes exploring the role of food in storytelling will allow her students to see how food preferences and habits can both shape and reveal character. Spark is now gathering stories for a non-fiction book about coincidences, and her fifth novel, Discipline, is set to be published in 2024.