“The Writers Conference,” by Kathleen Naureckas

Apr 20th, 2019 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

The bearded man bent embarrassingly close to read the nametag pinned to the bosom of her dress. It went against her nature to tell her name to the world—how public, like a frog—but she had learned on the first day of the Connecticut Valley Writers Conference, when she didn’t wear it, that the nametag answered at least one unwanted question. When people asked “Who are you?” and she said “Nobody,” they took up a lot of time explaining that she really was somebody and shouldn’t be so lacking in confidence. A writer needs confidence above all, they said.

“Emily Dickinson,” the bearded man said now, nodding approvingly.

His own nametag read “Nathan Zuckerman.” “Good name. Easy to pronounce. It’ll look good in print.”

Zuckerman tipped his Stella Artois to his lips, drank, and looked down at her again. “What are you in? Fiction or poetry?” he asked.

“Poetry,” Emily said, almost inaudibly.

Zuckerman gave her a pitying look. “I write fiction myself. Just finished my second novel. I’m trying to connect with an agent. No luck yet, but I’ve gotten some good rejections. I feel like I’m getting close.” He drank more beer. “You publish anything?”

She looked away, wishing they would all move off the porch and on into dinner, or that the floorboards would open up and swallow either her or Nathan Zuckerman.

“I said, you publish anything?” he repeated, a little louder.

Emily looked back at him and then at the floor, which remained stubbornly solid. “No,” she whispered.

Another pitying look from Zuckerman. “Got an agent?” he asked.

Emily did not reply.

“Hey! Didn’t I see you wearing the same dress yesterday? I’m sure I saw you in a white dress just like it. You one of the people who lost their luggage?”

He stared at her for such a long time that Emily eventually answered  “No” in a choked voice.

“You just like white then,” he said, smiling over Emily’s shoulder at a young woman intern who, unfortunately for Zuckerman, was deep in conversation with a male faculty member. Every intern there—they were all women, and a remarkably attractive group—was deep in conversation with a male faculty member. Zuckerman looked back at Emily, who wasn’t bad-looking, just a little pale and a little old for him. Zuckerman was a robust 68. He’d been a jogger and a vegetarian ever since his quadruple bypass. And Emily was also a little weird.

“White must be cool in this weather,” he said. He drained his beer and looked around for another.

Emily didn’t answer. She felt almost faint with hunger and heat. It was a stifling July evening and her long white dress wasn’t cool at all. She wished she could have worn a tank top and shorts, like the interns. But that would have been as much against her nature as signing up for a writers conference in the first place.


Kathleen Naureckas is a retired journalist whose poems have appeared in Light, Lighten Up Online, and Measure.

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