His wound may have been geography, but his legacy was generosity. That’s the takeaway from this new collection of essays honoring the late Pat Conroy (1945-2016).
Novelist Seitz (The Cage-Maker, 2017, etc.) and Haupt, the executive director of the Pat Conroy Literary Center, pull together a who’s-who of writers from the Lowcountry and beyond for an ode to the real Prince of Tides. Remarkably, what could have been a tedious eulogy turns out to be a compelling read that illuminates the man behind the myth, a writer’s writer, a fantastic storyteller, a flawed genius, and an exceptionally loyal friend. Of course, some essays excel more than others. Sallie Ann Robinson, a student of Conroy’s on Daufuskie Island, which he later made famous in The Water Is Wide (1972), writes a moving account of what it was like to be taught by the larger-than-life author: “Pat saw that our experiences had been limited, and he wanted us to have more.” Other chapters are more nostalgic, but even still the collection feels genuine. How many writers get a 60-author-strong memorial published after their death? For fans of Conroy, the peek into his real life is especially entertaining. Apparently, he was notorious for leaving the same message on all of his friends’ phones—“It’s up to me to keep this dying friendship alive”—although it was next to impossible to call him back as his own voicemail was nearly always full. But even if you couldn’t get him on the phone, Conroy always showed up when it was important, like when another author needed a book jacket endorsement. A self-declared “blurb slut,” he was renowned for not just giving other writers recommendations, but also writing thoughtful praise that many credit for their success to this day. Among others, notable contributors include Jonathan Galassi, Ron Rash, Marjory Wentworth, Patti Callahan Henry, Rick Bragg, and Mary Alice Monroe.
A fitting tribute to a unique, significant writer and man.