THE HISTORY OF THE SANTA BARBARA WRITERS CONFERENCE — 1980

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An excerpt from the Santa Barbara Writers Conference Scrapbook by Armando Nieto, Mary Conrad, and Matt Pallamary:

William Styron was back, overheard at the Conrad’s party to say, “I love California in a perverse and unique way. It always seems both non-American and more American than America.”

Though the star-studded parties were in full swing, the real action remained at the Miramar Hotel. 1980 was the year William Styron told the conference how he came to write Sophie’s Choice which held the number one spot on the best-seller list for 47 weeks.

“In the early ‘70s I fell into that moment of creative impotence in which something goes haywire with the creative process, and one struggles and struggles with the obdurate word, with the intransigent paragraphs, with the hopelessly unyielding sentence, word, comma — and one wants to give it all up and go to Peru and fish sardines or something like that — anything but write.”

Questions from the assembled writers poked into those places most personal to any writer, such as, “You talk a lot about loneliness.” Styron said he didn’t think there was any way out of it — “Its self-flagellation.” and “was ‘Nathan’ (a principle in Sophie’s Choice) based on someone you knew?” Nathan was based on a composite of people he knew.

Students at the SBWC wanted to know everything about writing, and the smorgasbord of authors at the conference provided many opportunities to learn from masters in many fields.

 

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