When Barnaby Conrad launched the Santa Barbara Writers Conference (SBWC) in 1972, he was clear about one thing — there would be no application process. Having played a role in the then-fledgling Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, Conrad objected to the idea that writers should apply and be accepted or rejected on the basis of their current work.
“He always thought that there were plenty of writers in print who would never have been accepted to prestigious writers conferences,” explained current SBWC director Nicole Starczak recently. “He wanted [SBWC] to be available to anyone who was interested in — and excited about — writing.”
Forty-two years later, the Santa Barbara Writers Conference continues to honor Conrad’s inclusive vision, drawing together writers across the full range of genres and experience. For five days, participants attend author talks, meet with editors, and get their work critiqued in workshops that range in focus from screenwriting to revising the first four pages. What loyal followers and SBWC newcomers alike share in common is their dedication to the craft of writing, and their enthusiasm for the written word. With registration capped at 200, and a staff-to-student ratio of 1-3, SBWC offers a degree of intimacy that larger writers conferences simply can’t.
Over the years, SBWC has also attracted some big names in writing and literature, from James Michener and Eudora Welty to Fannie Flagg and Ray Bradbury, who attended regularly until his death in 2012. This year’s lineup of speakers includes Jane Smiley, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel A Thousand Acres, alongside investigative reporter and New York Times best-selling author Caitlin Rother. They’ll be joined by two rising stars of the fiction world: Kansas-based Laura Moriarty and Maile Meloy, sister of Decembrists frontman Colin Meloy. Rounding out the roster this year is Mark Childress, author of seven novels including Crazy in Alabama, One Mississippi, and most recently, Georgia Bottoms.
In a recent email interview, Childress described his writing process as “old-school.”
“I still work on a computer,” he noted. “These kids today, writing novels on their phones or dictating to Siri! Who needs another voice in the room? First I ride my bike, then I sit down at 9 or 10 a.m. after I’ve run out of excuses. I turn off the Internet. I stay at the desk working until I can’t stand it anymore. The next day I do the same again, and after a few years, I come up with a novel.”
Childress will be the featured speaker on Tuesday, June 10, when he plans to discuss his novels, as well as what he called “a cautionary tale for young and old alike: ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ That motto describes the arc of my career.”
Eager to hear Childress speak but too busy to devote five full days? Never fear; each evening, SBWC opens its doors to the public for just that reason. Tickets to the talks are just $10, and the full schedule is listed on the SBWC website. Those still wavering on whether to register for the full conference can try their luck at snagging a spot on Saturday morning, but be forewarned: Once those 200 spots fill up, there’s nothing for it but to wait for next year.
The S.B. Writers Conference is Saturday-Thursday, June 7-12, at the Hyatt. Late registration will be available Saturday morning, space permitting. Evening presentations take place at 7:30 p.m. and are open to the public for $10. For a full schedule of events, call 568-1516 or visit sbwriters.com.