It all began because Gail Marshall was tired of driving to Long Beach—at least according to Carol Keator, former Santa Barbara public library director, and Sharon Yoshida, who runs the still-new Granada Books, sitting in a Mesa café and talking about the origins of the Women’s Literary Festival Santa Barbara. “Gail and her daughter Jennifer used to drive down there where they had a festival,” said Keator, referring to the former county supervisor, who was always an arts champion. “And Gail thought Santa Barbara ought to have one of these.”
“So they quickly put together a board of directors,” said Yoshida and from there began an organizing and funding alliance that included the public library and UCSB Women’s Center, among others. That was a decade ago. Then, women were some of the biggest earners of all time: J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) and E.L. James (50 Shades of Grey) made more money than Britain’s Royal Family, while Hilary (Wolf Hall) Mantel won back-to-back Booker prizes for more highbrow fictionalizing. Even in this little beach town, Sue Grafton kept the craft of crime writing alive. So what was the motivation for starting a female-only literary fest? “A lot of the women you hear about are at the top of the heap,” explained Keator. “We were interested in the lesser-known writers, people whose messages are not so widespread.”
“The focus of the festival is promoting literacy, diversity, and social justice,” added Yoshida. To that end, the festival has always stayed focused, with past writers including a military woman who resigned over the nation’s botched Middle East incursions (Col. Ann Wright) and a writer who tracked the weird connection between lottery winners and Chinese fortune cookies (Jennifer 8. Lee). Santa Barbara authors have also been involved, with Indy columnist Starshine Roshell, the city’s poet laureate Chryss Yost, and Sojourner Kincaid Rolle (who is overdue for the same post, by the way).
And this year is no different. Guests include Sonia Nazario, a Pulitzer-winning journalist who chronicles the children of Mexican immigrants; blogger and poet Nika Cavat, daughter of the famed S.B. artist Irma; and for the first time, an award-winning fantasy novelist has made the grade, Sofia Samatar, who is also a professor of multicultural studies at nearby CSU Channel Islands.
The one-day event held at the Fess Parker center is set up to allow four presentations by women scribes (two morning, two afternoon) and a breakout afternoon panel with three parallel speakers that afford a more intimate encounter with the writers. The big talks this year include that of Katrina Karkazis, a Stanford anthropologist whose latest book traces the history of intersex people.
Keator is proud of that 10-year diversity record and also happy that the festival, which relies on donations from both individuals and groups such as the Arts Commission and city reading groups, has managed to keep the fest affordable. “It’s only $65 for the day, and lots of scholarships are given out,” said Keator. “We want folks to come. We want it to be accessible in many ways … People are so grateful for the contact with writers and ideas,” she said. And it’s a lot easier than driving to Orange County, too.
The Women’s Literary Festival is Saturday, March 7, 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort, 633 East Cabrillo Boulevard. See womensliteraryfestival.com.