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 previous tributes at thestate.com/living.
Janna McMahan, author, “Anonymity”
Both Pat and his wife, novelist Cassandra King, have been kind to me over the years. Writing for a living can be a struggle and I’ve been fortunate to know them and other authors with a generosity of spirit who encouraged me when I doubted myself.
The opening chapter of “The Prince of Tides” is one of the most beautiful pieces of prose I’ve ever encountered. I go back to that chapter often to remind myself of what I aspire to creatively and how I’d like my own literary legacy to read.
Melissa Conroy, author and illustrator, “Poppy Pants”
My favorite Pat Conroy book is “The Great Santini.” I was seven years old when it was published. Even at that young age, I knew “The Great Santini” was about a damaged family. The original cover, an oil painting of a flight jacket hanging on a hook (by Wendell Minor), was in Dad’s apartment. I loved that painting. It’s still my favorite book jacket of his. I knew the people in “The Great Santini,” and I knew it took courage to write. Dad influenced me as an artist, a reader and a person because of his courage.
Walter Edgar, author, “South Carolina: A History”
I was writing at the same time as Pat. I quoted him and other contemporary South Carolina writers in my history because they deal with contemporary issues and all have a love of South Carolina. Of Pat’s books, I quoted from “The Prince of Tides,” “Beach Music,” and “The Water Is Wide.” Pat has a very lyrical way of talking about South Carolina that has fascinated me – in the preface to my history, I have a quote from “Beach Music.” Even though he’s not a native son, his writing is totally infused with South Carolina history, culture – the works.
Which book is my favorite? That’s almost like asking who’s my favorite grandchild. If I had to pick one, I think I’d pick “The Prince of Tides.” All his books are good reads but that one is a great read.
Valerie Sayers, novelist and chairwoman of the English Department, University of Notre Dame
Pat taught me psychology, not literature, at Beaufort High in 1969, but I thought all his lectures were written by an erudite, acerbic literary god. I savored every sentence. The way he combines intensity and wit stays with me as a writer. For entirely selfish and irrational reasons, “The Water Is Wide” will always be my favorite Conroy because it springs from that time and from the same generosity, courage and humor that defined him as my teacher.
Patti Callahan Henry, author, “And Then I Found You”
I came to Conroy’s work first as a reader falling in love with his rich prose and then later as a writer with a desire to learn. I’ve tried to untangle his sentences, find a way to unleash the same emotions in my writing, but Conroy is the Master and there is no way to emulate him. Inside his novels I learned to pay attention to detail: sunlight on the marsh, an emotion bubbling up to the surface or the hidden meaning beneath a conversation.
“Beach Music” is my favorite. And why? Who can ever say why something is a favorite thing? I only know that when I read this book, time slipped away from me and I felt like I was part of something larger in the world, something meaningful and full of vulnerable aching.