As a Santa Barbara native, I’m often chagrined by what I don’t know about Santa Barbara’s past. Until The Poet and the Prince: Stories of Forgotten Santa Barbara Writers by Steven Gilbar fell into my hands, I had never heard of Josephine Walcott, let alone her distinction as Santa Barbara’s first published author. Nor did I know that Ernest L. Thayer, the diffident author of the immortal baseball poem “Casey at the Bat,” lived across the highway from the Miramar Hotel for nearly 30 years. Likewise, the name Guy Gilpatric was new to me, though it was only nine years before I was born that Gilpatric — a well-known contributor of serialized stories to the Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s in the 1930s and ’40s — committed suicide on the Riviera after fatally shooting his wife.
In all, Gilbar, who coauthored Literary Santa Barbara in 1998, resurrects 11 writers who have slipped into obscurity. Each made a contribution to Santa Barbara’s literary heritage. Tapping into the power of the internet, Gilbar unearthed long forgotten primary sources, including letters and newspaper accounts. Readers see how these writers contributed to transforming Santa Barbara from a sleepy, remote, and sparsely populated town of unpaved streets and limited culture into a city known for its healthful climate and sun-drenched lifestyle. Taken together, the profiles add depth and nuance to one’s knowledge of Santa Barbara and the city’s place in California history.