San Diego’s “Mother Superior” of the writing community has died. Let me share a little how she lived.
Betty Abell Jurus–B.Abell–had been a writer long before opening the Writers’ Bookstore & Haven. A claustrophobic, deep, dark closet of a space located in used-bookstore-centric Normal Heights, it housed a selection of mostly writing-related titles and books by local authors. Beyond the street-facing retail area stood battered tables where writers could gather and converse, work or just linger confidently in windowless inclusion.
A singular spark of spirit with a quick, bawdy laugh, B.Abell herself illuminated the room merely with her presence. Windows weren’t required. In fact, not even the lone word processor provided for writers had Windows. These were the days of DOS and 5-inch floppies.
“Hah!” B.Abell often exclaimed at whatever little thing delighted her in the moment. Such became our clarion call.
Back in those days, the mid-Eighties, San Diego hadn’t much of a writing community. For Left Coast literary respect, what little was granted tended to be siphoned off by L.A. or San Francisco authors. San Diego? “Tourist town,” bereft of “literary” value, or so it was perceived. But B.Abell helped fix that with the Haven.
At the Haven all writers were welcome to jump in, hangout and be a part of a greater community. No distinctions were made between aspiring and accomplished.
B.Abell founded the Southern California Writers’ Conference because of her belief in the value of a robust writing community. B.Abell and I bought and ran a neighborhood newspaper, called Reporter San Diego, because of it. Many of the Haven Writers (“A plot of writers since 1986”) contributed stories to it. B.Abell’s husband and selfless supporter of whatever wild whim she fancied with regard to supporting the community, Louis “Skip” Jurus, served as its sole photographer and was profiled for his years-long work photo-journaling the revitalization of San Diego’s Gaslamp District in our inaugural cover story.
B.Abell’s policy of welcoming writers into the community with open arms extended to a man who strolled into the Haven one sunny afternoon, named Gene Wentz, the most highly-decorated Navy SEAL at the time. At the time he wasn’t a writer, but he had a helluva story to tell. After hearing it, B.Abell agreed to write it and they both set off together to do so. The book became the novel Men in Green Faces, widely considered among the definitive accounts of Navy SEALs in action.
Because of her stubborn, indomitable will and infectious spirit, the writing community B.Abell forged all those years ago continues to grow today. As evidenced by the innumerable published works by authors that it’s produced–not only from San Diego but from across the U.S. and beyond–her legacy endures.
B.Abell remains my Northern Star that will not fade.
I invite you to learn more about B.Abell by watching the video below. It’s the first half of a movie I made back in 1996 called We, The Writer. A poor VHS copy, its quality I can only apologize for. B.Abell is featured throughout for good reason.