“The most powerful words in the English language are ‘Tell me a story.’ ” So said the late Pat Conroy, the Southern novelist who was beloved not only for his books, but also for his good-hearted character and devotion to literature.
Conroy is a legend all over the state of South Carolina, where I live; walk into any of my neighbors’ houses and you’re likely to find a copy of The Great Santini, The Prince of Tides, or Lords of Discipline. In Beaufort, the hamlet about two hours south of Charleston where he spent a good portion of his life—and where he died—the Pat Conroy Literary Center opened just over a year ago. My wife, a writer, recently spent a weekend there teaching classes on memoir and writing and interacting with some of the authors—and aspiring authors—who have been influenced by Conroy and his legacy of storytelling.
That legacy is set to resound further in a new book called My Exaggerated Life (Mar. 13), in which novelist Katherine Clark recounts her nearly 200 hours of conversations with Conroy over the years. The talkative Conroy was generous in his tales and observations, and the book, while not a tight, cohesive biography, amply reflects Conroy’s unguarded, salt-of-the-earth nature. And the anecdotes are legion and rarely boring—e.g., discussing Lords of Discipline, Gore Vidal remarked that it “could have been a good book if only I’d known that all those guys were gay.”
My Exaggerated Life is a must for Conroy fans and just the thing to tide them over until a larger-scale biography emerges. As our reviewer wrote, “the occasional outburst of adult themes notwithstanding, this makes good reading not just for Conroy’s fans, but also teenagers seeking a literary path out of the confusion as well as grown-ups reckoning with their own lives.” Eric Liebetrau is the nonfiction and managing editor; photo above is of Katherine Clark.