Friday, January 8, 2010

Santa Barbara Writers Conference

Barnaby Conrad arrived in Santa Barbara in the early 1970s having written a blockbuster (Matador, three million copies sold so far), and decided to start a writers conference.

Artist, raconteur, ex-bullfighter, and famous in San Francisco for presiding over a celeb hangout named for his best-seller, El Matador, Conrad was a master at running a salon-saloon but had no idea how to operate a writers conference.

But from the first year, 1973, at Cate School, “We never lost money,” Conrad told me. “We (his wife Mary was cofounder and took care of the business side while Conrad dealt with the writers) made enough each year to go around the world.”

The Conrads sold the Santa Barbara Writers Conference to ex-News-Presser Marcia Meier in 2004 and now it’s fallen on hard times and into bankruptcy. There’s speculation that it will be bought by author Monte Schulz, son of the late Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz, an annual speaker at the confab.

Meier announced financial problems early this year, at least in part due to the recession, and the annual June conference was called off. Conrad believes it will take quick action by someone to stage it in 2010.

Conrad had to scramble to get the conference started from scratch. “The first year I called Ray Bradbury. ‘Mr. Bradbury, I’d love to have you as a speaker.’

“He said, ‘I don’t know. Who else have you got?’”

Conrad paused. “I’ve got Charles Schulz, Budd Schulberg, Alex Haley,” and other big names.

“Okay,” Bradbury replied. Then Conrad called Schulberg and told him he had Schulz, Bradbury, Haley and others. Schulberg agreed. Conrad next called Haley, famed for Roots, and pulled the same maneuver.

He wrote to Charles Michener, author of a series of books, including Hawaii. “I didn’t hear. Finally, two weeks before the conference, I got a call from Germany. ‘Is it too late to come?’ Michener asked. ‘But it’ll cost you $50 to change my plane ticket.’” Replied a delighted Conrad, “I think we can come up with that.”

When the conference opened, “They all came,” he said, still in wonderment. “Michener said he could only stay for two hours. He stayed four days, read everyone’s manuscripts and talked to all the students. Charles Schulz came 30 times. He brought original drawings of Snoopy and gave them away as prizes.”

Over the years, many fledgling authors got their start at the conference, including. . .

Full Article at Santa Barbara Independent

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