Three orange plastic chairs. One that will be pulled off to one side for the moderator. The spotlight will be on two women, sitting in the center of a boxy wooden platform. Two low mikes on long arms stand ready for their voices. I sit in an aisle seat in the second row, sipping wine from a small Ball canning jar. This room reminds me of a warehouse, high plaster walls, no windows—the Space Gallery, Portland, Maine. I’ve come to listen to Roxana Robinson and Ann Beattie read from the work of writers they admire, then discuss their selections. Later, each will read a selection from the other’s work. They rise from front row seats in the section on my right, Roxana leading. She wears red ankle length trousers, a white and black striped three quarter sleeve top, a black and white striped matching cardigan tied over her shoulders, red flat canvas shoes with closed toes. Ann wears black and white. What I notice about Ann are her long fingernails, polished fire engine red, then her toenails, polished the same red. Each has chosen red for her splash of color.
The selections they read are by Peter Talylor, Robert Stone, Grace Paley—Ann; Elena Ferrante, Hillary Mantel, Alice Munroe—Roxana. Now, Roxana reading from Ann Beattie’s “In the White Night,” then, Ann reading from Roxana’s Sparta. All of the writing is arresting. Stunning. Some writers rely on exposition, others on scene—which ever each chooses, he or she is a master. Each voice is unique.
How delightful to listen to two very smart accomplished writers talking about writing. But I as a writer can’t aspire to write like any of them—and I shouldn’t. Each’s wonder, each’s brilliance springs from an unknown quality that is his or hers alone. As I leave the gallery and step out into the cool of an August night, their words, their stories, their characters, the moods they create linger like a brush of silk on my skin.