Feature

Author of the week: Barnaby Conrad

The last time Conrad saw his former boss Sinclair Lewis, they were sitting together in a bar in Paris and the Nobel Prize–winning author issued a drunken prophecy.

“Talk about pressure,” said Adam Nagourney in The New York Times. The last time Barnaby Conrad saw his former boss Sinclair Lewis, they were sitting together in a bar in Paris and the Nobel Prize–winning author issued this drunken prophecy: “You’re never going to be a writer unless you write that book.” The idea for “that book” was Lewis’s own: A few years earlier, he’d prodded his young secretary to create an alternative history in which John Wilkes Booth eludes capture after assassinating Abraham Lincoln, escaping to the West under an assumed identity. That conversation happened more than 60 years ago. “It was always on my mind,” says Conrad, now 88. At long last, though, he’s succeeded in publishing The Second Life of John Wilkes Booth with a small Oklahoma press.

Conrad lived a few lives during the six decades it took him to get around to the Booth project, said Mark Brown in the Tulsa World. He’s been a matador, a painter, a San Francisco nightclub owner, and, defying Lewis’s prediction, an author of 34 other books. So what took him so long with Second Life? “I didn’t think it was a book. I thought it was a short story,” he says. “And I had my own books to write.” Even so, Conrad admits he’s “relieved” to finally have the Booth book done so he can focus on completing book No. 36. Its subject: the five months he spent working as Sinclair Lewis’s personal secretary.

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