The Santa Barbara Writers Conference has charged on this year without its matador.
Writers from across the country made the pilgrimage to the Hyatt Santa Barbara this week to share their stories and possibly hook a literary agent. But the death in February of the conference’s founding co-owner and bullfighter, Barnaby Conrad, was also on the minds of veteran workshop leaders and attendees.
At last year’s conference, attendees celebrated the life of acclaimed science-fiction novelist Ray Bradbury, who died in January 2012.
The two lighting-rod figures of the conference are gone, but their spirit lives on in what the conference’s new owner, Monte Schulz, calls the society of writers.
“The conference itself moves on because of the inspiration and the legacy of the people who came before,” Schulz said.
Schulz bought the conference to restore it to how he remembered it as a young adult in the early 1970s, when his dad, Charles Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, was a regular speaker. Veterans hug and welcome each other back to Santa Barbara to share a week together. Newbies get the opportunity to hear world-class writers lecture and read the writing that some have kept hidden for years.
“The conference is infused with new people all the time,” he said. “I just feel like it’s an ongoing transition. The conference is an ongoing story, and each year is a chapter of that story.”
Speaker Stephen Chbosky
The conference kicked off its series of accomplished novelists on Saturday with a lecture from Stephen Chbosky, author, screenwriter and director of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Chbosky gave details on his process for writing and publishing the popular young adult novel, but also advised fellow attending writers on how to make their writing sing.
“Whether you’re 14 years old or if you’re 84 years old and still have a story to tell, write what is authentic to you,” he said.
Some of Chbosky’s novel was autobiographical about growing up in Pittsburgh. The book partly deals with the challenges and intolerance gay teenagers grapple with in high school.
“I think it’s very relevant,” Chbosky said. “It will be relevant forever, sadly. It shouldn’t.”
As a fiercely proud Pittsburgh native, Chbosky said he was proud to bring jobs and money by filming in his hometown. For lead actress Emma Watson, who is from London, the suburbs were an exotic setting to shoot.
“She didn’t even know what an Olive Garden was,” he said.
Barnaby Conrad Remembered
Dozens of family members and friends of Conrad gathered at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum on Sunday to celebrate and memorialize his life.
He was eulogized as the acclaimed novelist of Matador, the artist of three portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, a bullfighter known as “El Nino de California,” an accomplished wood sculptor, a trash-talking tennis player and a beloved teacher.
Sid Stebel, a workshop leader who founded the conference with Conrad and Bradbury, spoke affectionately about his two friends.
People who met Conrad thought he had a rock star persona, but he never thought of himself that way, Stebel said.
The idea to start the Santa Barbara Writers Conference came to the trio when Stebel and Bradbury met Conrad at a writers conference in Squaw Valley in the early 1970s. They thought the conference was dull and could put on a better one, Stebel said. The trio and their followers held the first conference shortly after at Cate School in Carpinteria.
“I always said the only reason I taught at the conference was because I was Ray Bradbury’s buddy-driver and Barnaby thought, ‘Well, hell, he’ll drive him all the way up here (from Los Angeles),’” Stebel said.
Barnaby Conrad III closed out eulogies for his father by asking attendees to toast and “think of a great bull ring in the sky.”