I will never write like Pat Conroy, the legendary South Carolina author who died March 4 and was best known for novels such as The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini and The Lords of Discipline.
I’m not sure I have a novelist’s patience – although I am trying – and I’m certain I do not have the kind of connection to place that fueled Conroy’s narratives. Those were the things that made me an admirer of his work. I like to think that, even as a young reader, I saw significance in his use of language, careful construction of character and ability to ground his work in the aforementioned Lowcountry settings.
Later, when I had left the South for a time and those places and stories began to feel more alien, I found Conroy’s work could always, at least for a few hundred pages, bring me home.
Yes, I admit I often found Conroy’s prose a little more purple than it needed to be and his raw emotion lacking in a certain subtlety. That didn’t really matter however. The writing was so fine and unique to the man himself that anything that might have ordinarily felt insincere felt believable and true.
But it has only been recently that I felt more than mere admiration for the man. Over the past several years I’ve begun to feel something I can only describe as kinship.
You see, for years, I’ve told anyone willing to listen that every writer – good, great or indifferent – begins their career as a reader. Every writer I know shares that love. Many, I suspect, would prefer to curl up with a good book than actually produce one. It’s that love of books and reading, that belief that a fine book can become an almost sacred text in a person’s life, that informed Conroy’s My Reading Life, a memoir of sorts that detailed his love of specific books and writers and those people who helped him translate his reading life into a writing one. His list differs fairly significantly from mine. But that’s not the point, because here was a man that could lose himself in words. Here was a man driven by a constant and consistent search for a story well-told. Here was the Reader that became the Writer.
It pains me that I was never able to meet Conroy. I’d like to think the discussion or debate would have been inspiring. Fortunately, in a small way, I do have an opportunity to say goodbye.
On Friday, March 11, Augusta University’s Writers Weekend at Summerville and the Book Tavern will present an Evening with Pat Conroy’s Story River Books starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Student Activities Center.
Story River, an imprint of the University of South Carolina Press, was founded two years ago under the guidance of Conroy, who served in an editorial position. Every book Story River sent to press was reviewed and championed by both Conroy the reader and writer. So while I’ll never shake the man’s hand, I can read those books he read and perhaps meet those writers he admired. I’m curious to hear what they say about the man and his work.
I’d like to talk to them about the shared admiration for a writer sadly no longer with us. I hope that is a conversation he would have liked and that he might have found it a suitable way to say goodbye.