Scenes from a Writing Conference

Flock of Sheep

By Andrea Scarpino


Los Angeles


The shuttle from the airport filled with writers—What’s your next project? . . . . When I was doing my undergraduate at Stanford . . . . This is my fifth book . . . . Do you know who I’m on a panel with?. . . . I hand out mints, hope that calms the egos, trip. An hour later, hotel after hotel, writers climb over one another to exit the van. Denver air pours in the opened doors, crisp and with a hint of winter.

Book fair: knee high boots, funky tee shirts, suits, two men drinking bottles of beer, a woman with her resume. Here, she says, pushing it to me. I try not to fold it up until she walks away. Postcards, magnets, pens, free issues of literary journals, free chocolates, cheese plate, grapes. Do you write fiction? . . . . Do you like poetry?. . . . Are you interested in an MFA? . . . . The aisles are long and wide but packed. Fluorescent lights. Blue fabric booth dividers. Industrial carpet on the floor.

And in the conference sessions: discussion of craft, poetry readings, readings of fiction, memoir. Discussion of online reading series, research for creative writing degrees. Discussion of modern, contemporary. I study the tattoos of the people sitting around me: tree branches climbing a shoulder blade, stars up and down a calf, a fist in a woman sign, a face in a top hat.

Then Rita Dove. All men are beggars, white or black. And the thudding dirge of his heart. Her shoes are much too fashionable for a writer. Her hair is perfectly done. She is glamour, this poet I’ve long loved. Glamour and sass. When questioned about her subject matter, she fires back, It’s clear he hasn’t read very much of my book.

Hotel lobby cocktail hour. Clinking of ice in glasses, clinking of toasts. Clinking of jokes, pick-up lines. A giggle, a man pulling down the side of his pants to show a stickered tattoo, hurried descriptions of work-not-quite-finished, book tours, grumblings about agents, publishers, prizes almost-won, the selection process. Upstairs, the whirlpool—even as night falls, people in swimsuits sitting in the water, lounging on chairs all around. The whir of exercise equipment. Whir of chatter, gossip, talk.


Andrea Scarpino is the west coast Bureau Chief of POTB. You can visit her at:

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