An excerpt from the Santa Barbara Writers Conference Scrapbook by Armando Nieto, Mary Conrad, and Matt Pallamary:
The 1979 conference was dedicated to Erskine Caldwell, the shy and low-profile writer of Tobacco Road and God’s Little Acre whose 50 books had been translated into 43 languages with a circulation of an estimated 80,000,000 copies in print.
Earlier in his career Mr. Caldwell was anything but shy when the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice instigated legal action against him, bringing about his arrest when he attended a book-signing for God’s Little Acre in New York. With his exoneration at trial, the novel The Bastard was deemed “not obscene” by Magistrate Greenspan. Caldwell promptly counter-sued for false arrest and malicious prosecution.
Barnaby met Erskine Caldwell when they both resided in San Francisco, joining with one another in the fecund hotbed of writers who comprised the Bay Area writing community, and who also frequented Barnaby’s El Matador Bar. When the Conrads moved to Carpinteria, Caldwell made his way to Paradise Valley, Arizona, where he lived until his death on April 11, 1987.
Deemed so by James Michener, the SBWC was “now known as the best [conference] in the nation,” and the Santa Barbara and Montecito society circles took notice.
Friends of Mary and Barnaby Conrad held parties in conjunction with the SBWC, including Mrs. Leinie Schilling of the Schilling Spice fortune. Attendees to Leinie’s legendary Mexican Buffet supper included workshop leaders, speakers, and visiting writers who met permanent and part time local residents including Jane Russell, Robert Mitchum, John Ireland, Dame Judith Anderson, and Priscilla Presley, but, as with Mary Conrad’s fabled cocktail party for friends of the SBWC in their Rincon home, the Leinie Schilling and every other SBWC associated party had a sharp curfew of 7:30 pm when party attendees were encouraged to “drink up and eat up” because the evening speaker started the lecture at 8:00 pm. Setting a good example, by that point Mary herself was absent from the festivities, ensconced at a table in the entrance to the Miramar Conference Center, checking name badges or collecting admission fees.
1979 marked the seventh year in a row that the Conrads convened the SBWC which had grown from 36 students and 7 workshop leaders and speakers, to 175 students and 31 speakers and workshop leaders.