Friday, February 15, 2013

QEPD Barnaby Conrad (1923-2013)

by Melinda Palacio
Mary and Barnaby Conrad
photo by Melinda Palacio

Last year, we celebrated Barnaby Conrad's 90th birthday, this year, we celebrate his life. If you've never heard of the famed author of the novel Matador or the founder of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, you've missed out on knowing a legendary storyteller who passed away on last Tuesday in Carpinteria, 337 miles from his birthplace in San Francisco.

I never had the opportunity to tell Barnaby about the Superior Grill on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans that boasted a framed poster of Manolete Por Bernabe Conrad. The poster is also an advertisement for Falstaff Beer. He wouldn't have been surprised that a Mexican restaurant in New Orleans displayed a giant portrait of his book (the 1952 novel was a worldwide hit, published in over 20 languages) or that his Manolete was being used to promote Falstaff beer. As a former bar owner, he would have appreciated the Superior Grill's hefty Margaritas. As the only American bullfighter to fight in Spain, Peru, and Mexico, Barnaby never lost his bravado or sense of story.
Barnaby Conrad and Melinda Palacio

The first time I attended the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, I knew there was something special about the week of little sleep and much writing and listening. In 2001, I had this idea for a novel and little clue as to how to proceed. I signed up for the conference and submitted a writing sample. Barnaby wrote a letter to my character, Isola, and suggested some workshops I might benefit from. Being someone who rarely follows orders, I decided I would attend Barnaby's class, instead of his recommendations. I heard wonderful passages from Karin Finell and Zoe Gharmani and many others who I kept seeing year after year at the conference. The following year, Mary Conrad invited me to volunteer. She gave me the jobs of helping with registration and making coffee for Shelly Lowenkopf's Pirate Workshop, which began at 9pm and ended between 3am and 5am or until there was no one left standing (good thing the job only lasted a week).
Barnaby Conrad and Shelly Lowenkopf

Later, when I interviewed Barnaby for the Goleta Valley Voice, it all clicked and I understood what was so special about the Santa Barbara Writers Conference: Community. In his over 30 years of running the conference with his wife, Mary, Barnaby inspired several generations of writers. "Writing is so lonely," Conrad said.
            "They write all year and most of them don't see other writers at all, certainly not famous writers and published writers. And, here they feel the camaraderie and they're also very surprised, I think at how friendly the famous writers are and how they can actually talk to them."

Barnaby Conrad (April 30, 1923-February 12, 2013)

Barnaby Conrad playing the piano at the Fess Parker Hotel in Santa Barbara

This week, Bernabe, who never called me by anything other than, guapa, would be proud that I am visiting two historic cities in my role as published author.

First stop: Natchitoches, the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana purchase.

I will be speaking at Northwestern State University in the Thomas D'Amato Reading Room in the Watson Library on Tuesday February 19 at 5pm.

February 23, Saturday, also at 5pm, I will be reading at Lorelei Books in Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1103 Washington Street, Vicksburg, MS, 601-634-8624.

Melinda Palacio is the author of Ocotillo Dreams and How Fire Is a Story, Waiting.


msedano said...

I wanted to take you up on the offer to meet Barnaby Conrad. So it goes. Barnaby Conrad carried me to several speech trophies with my adaptation of his The Death of Manolete.


Thank you, Melinda! Now I need to seek out MATADOR . . .

Unknown said...

Melinda, thank you for sharing the Barnaby Conrad you knew and especially the photographs. Shelly also wrote a touching remembrance of Mr. Conrad on his blog.
Many best wishes on your upcoming presentations.

Thelma T. Reyna said...

I didn't know Barnaby Conrad, but now I wish I had had the honor of meeting him. I'm glad he was part of your life, Melinda, and am also glad about your upcoming events. May you carry forth the spirit of Barnaby's teachings and continue doing your own good work on behalf of literature and literacy. Adelante!