The economic downturn has claimed its latest victim: The 36th annual Santa Barbara Writers Conference.

Marcia Meier

Marcia Meier

Citing the current economy, conference executive director Marcia Meier said too few writers signed up to attend this year’s six-day event in June.

“If people have the discretionary income, they are being cautious with it,” she said. “Most of us don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s just a lot of concern out there.”

Meier added that the conference plans to resume the annual tradition in 2010 after the one-year hiatus.

The conference was founded in 1973 by Mary and Barnaby Conrad. Now in his 80s, Conrad is the author of 1952 best-selling book Matador, about the last day in the career of a famous bullfighter. He also had opened up a bar in San Francisco called the Matador, where he met many accomplished writers.

The first conference was held at Cate School in Carpinteria. That year, the Conrads’ good friend, Ray Bradbury — author of a classic piece of dystopian literature, Fahrenheit 451 — agreed to speak.

Ever since, Bradbury has been a fixture at the conference.

The conference eventually was moved to the Miramar Hotel. When the Miramar was shuttered in 2000, the conference took its only other yearlong break, resuming the following year at Westmont College. In 2004, the Conrads sold the conference to Meier, who moved the event to Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort Hotel.

Through the decades, the gathering became one of the nation’s most preeminent literary conferences. It drew 450 writers from all over the world last year, ranging in age from 12 to 98.

This year, Meier had lined up several speakers, including Jane Hamilton, author of The Book of Ruth, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award for First Fiction, and Ron McLarty, an actor-turned-novelist and author of The Memory of Running.

The conference has also helped several aspiring successful authors to drop that pesky adjective, “aspiring.”

Among them is Christopher Moore, an Ohio native and former student of Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara who is now a best-selling novelist. With titles such as Island of the Sequined Love Nun, many of his 11 books are considered humorous and offbeat.

The conference includes 30 different workshops every day, covering every genre of fiction, as well as nonfiction, journalism, poetry, screenwriting, playwriting and even marketing. The event also features a cocktail party, as well as an opportunity for the writers to pitch their stories to agents.

The cost for this year’s conference was $675 for those who signed up before March, and $875 for the rest.

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