An excerpt from the upcoming book by Armando Nieto, Mary Conrad, and Matt Pallamary: The Santa Barbara Writers Conference Scrapbook  — Words of Wisdom from Thirty Years of Literary Excellence 1973 – 2003

In 1977 Star Wars hit theaters for the first time and became the second highest-grossing film of all time while Saturday Night Fever sparked a disco inferno and the popularity of movie soundtrack. Elvis Presley died at Graceland, his Memphis, Tennessee home at age 42.

The correspondence between Barnaby and his writing pals is the stuff of legends. The following exchange between Jessica (Decca) Mitford and Barny discussing compensation is a classic that really captures the wit, talent, and essence of Barnaby Conrad.

From Barnaby:

“Robert Frost said blank verse is like playing tennis with the net down;

So I hope this won’t be too much of a let-down

But hereafter I am going to drop the pose

And go back to good old prose.

I’m done—you’ve clearly won

I wish you would

Not write so good.

As a poetaster

I’m sheer disaster.

But, unpoetically, we offer to you

300 Bucks plus a room with a view.

(And not such a bad one, Hon,

The view’s of Georgie Plimpton!)

As an added inducement to join our club,

One hundred clams to spend on grub,

This time the meals are reproachless

And, hopefully, the bedroom is roachless.

And now here’s a threat, dear Decca

If you don’t set aside

Your fiscal pride

We’ll dredge up Faithey Baldwish—to hear HER side!!!”


 Said Decca (Jessica) Mitford in reply, on a postcard of Dartmoor Prison in England:

“Ok, Ok

I might like to play,

But what is the pay?

Here’s where you’ll be

If I don’t get my fee.

(See over: A

Therapeutic Correctional

Community, English style,)

Much love, etc. to Mary,


Your money grubbing old friend.”


To which Barnaby responded:

“Dear Money Grubbing Olde Friend:

You are the living end!

So, hooray, hooray, hooray!

But—about this here pay:

With another Oaklander I must agree

That a fee’s a fee’s a fee.

But you must be wary

Of institutions eliomosonary

(of which this is not only one

but quite possibly the champion!)

Our honorarium has very little honor in it,

But your son can always tune a spinet.

Agree, it is ludicrous payola—

Still, it suits Clifton, Ray and Gayola.

Michener was really nifty—

He paid his travel and charged us only fifty

And I’ll swear by any Gideon

You’re getting as much as Joanie Didion

Ross and Buddd, Eudora and Haley

Waived their fees and did it gailey.

Only Charlie Schulz was a little poopy

His fee?—a case of Alpo for his Snoopy.

We wish ya would

be like Isherwood

Why not say to yourself, Decc—

What the heck

to hell with the pay”

I’ll join the fray

And save the day.

Cause if you don’t accept our generous offer of

Pelf, lodging and grog beside,

We’ll offer the place so rightfully yours to the editor of

Gasket and Sunnyside!

Please Dear Decca, think on it and think again

Just remember: three hundred American dollars is five

thousand 200 and ninety-six yen!!


Edgar Guest Conrad”


So, what could Decca say?:

“But I’m not welty, like Eudora,

I wish you’d be a little more, a-

Menable—in fact, I wish you would

Pay me what you save on Isherwood.

For what you save on Sidney Stebel

I really think you should be able

To enlarge your paltry fees

For me and Kurt and Gay Telese [sic].

And what about old Bradbury (Ray)?

I bet he gets astronomic pay.

But anyhow, I’ll comy your way

If not for a week, at least for a day

Love to all, Decca

p.s.  I see you offer free sea air

And (unless it’s improved) plain prison fare.

A dip in the surf and a walk on the turf

Plus spectral visits from Bennett Cerf.”

1977 Jessica Mitford Postcard 1

1977 Jessica Mitford Postcard 2