More S.C. authors and literary figures talk about the influence of Pat Conroy, whose book, “My Reading Life,” is the selection for 2014 One Book, One Columbia. Look for other tributes this month in The State and thestate.com/living.
Nathalie Dupree, co-author, “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” (with Cynthia Graubart)
Pat hung out at the Old New York Book Shop. Cliff (Graubart, the owner) was a friend of mine. He used to have big author parties with rot-gut champagne. Everybody drank too much. I went to a lot of those parties. I had met Pat when I had a cooking school and he participated in a gourmet gala, where celebrities cooked. That was after “The Water Is Wide” had been made into a movie. Cliff encouraged him to take cooking lessons. I’m Chapter One of his cookbook — my husband (author Jack Bass) calls it an affectionate caricature. I remember cooking a pre-wedding supper for Cliff and Cynthia, and the oven kept shorting out. Pat was cooking tortellini, and we were all smashing olives. We were in the kitchen together for hours.
Pat has a lyricism. He has that lushness that I associate with M.F.K. Fisher and other fine food writers. In many ways, I like “The Great Santini” as much as any of his books, because my father was in the service.
Dorothea Benton Frank, author, “The Last Original Wife”
Pat Conroy is a man of extraordinary talent also in possession of a huge heart. I fell in love with Pat’s work when I read “The Water Is Wide.” In those pages he described the frustrations of the times with the pinpoint accuracy of a laser, and he has continued to do so ever since. Pat’s work also taught me that it is the job of a writer to tell the beautiful and the terrible truth in stories, to hold a mirror up to ourselves and the world around us, and to make readers see what is good about us and what and how we need to change.
It’s awfully hard to choose one book of his over another and call it my favorite because they all contain unforgettable passages. So I’d then say that there is a scene in “South of Broad” when the young man is delivering newspapers, riding his bike all over the peninsula of Charleston, watching the city wake up for the day. The pages that hold that scene are as exquisitely written as anything I’ve ever read. But don’t tell Pat all this. He doesn’t need to get a fat head. But do say I send him hearty congratulations for this honor! He’s a treasure.
George Singleton, author, “Stray Decorum”
I did not know what an influence Mr. Conroy’s work had on mine until I read “The Pat Conroy Cookbook.” Man, I about gave up writing and cooking, both. It’s my favorite book of his by far, and I’m surprised more book clubs don’t ponder over it. I believe I might’ve had my own subsequent characters hankering for pickled shrimp inexorably after I couldn’t get that delicacy — described in typical Conroy fashion — out of my head.
Straightaway it led me to further reading, mostly from the Southern Foodways Alliance’s offerings in the realm of the most willful of comfort foods.
Terry Kay, author, “To Dance with the White Dog”
The question I am most asked is, “How did you get into the writing of fiction?” The honest answer is this: Pat called his editor at Houghton Mifflin and said he’d read 150 pages of a manuscript his friend Terry Kay was working on, and he thought the writing was wonderful. I received a letter from the editor begging for the pages — pages that did not exist. Yet Pat knew I would write them, and I did, and those pages inspired my first novel, “The Year the Lights Came On.” Writing influence? Oh, yes. Don’t know that I could say he has really influenced my reading, because I was reading a lot long before I met him. Still, I’ve listened to his recommendations of books and have enjoyed those selections.
I think Pat is a master of episodic writing, and “The Great Santini” is his best example of that gift. The writing is brilliant, the characters as memorable as any I’ve read in American literature, and the impact of the story continues to astound new readers yearly. Each time I think of it or read segments from it, I am reminded of my favorite American play, Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.” Reading Pat’s words is simply an exhilarating experience.