“You get a little moody sometimes, but I think that’s because you like to read. People that like to read are always a little f____d up.”
Despite the amusing reference in one of his classic tales, Conroy, who died in 2016, must have had an inkling of his impact on so many readers, not to mention on so many lives. That would have been confirmed for him if he had the chance to see the treasure chest of essays in the just published work, Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy (The University of Georgia Press), edited by Nicole Seitz and Jonathan Haupt.
Conroy inspired a worldwide legion of devoted fans numbering in the millions, but none are more loyal to him and more committed to sustaining his literary legacy than the many writers he nurtured over the course of his 50-year writing life. In sharing their stories of Conroy, his fellow writers honor his memory and advance our shared understanding of his lasting impact on 20th- and 21st-century literary life in and well beyond the American South.
Notes bestselling author Ann Patchett, “What could be better than so many voices coming together to celebrate Pat Conroy? This book is a testament to the enormous hold he had on our hearts and minds.”
His list of works are most impressive: The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, Beach Music, South of Broad, The Water is Wide, My Losing Season, The Boo, A Lowcountry Heart, Pat Conroy Cookbook and The Death of Santini.
Conroy’s was a messy fellowship of people from all walks of life. His relationships were complicated, and people and places he thought he’d left behind often circled back to him at crucial moments.
“What emerges in these pages, made possible by the range and depth of vantage points included, is a robust portrait of Pat Conroy, as artist and teacher, honoring the generosity for which the self-effacing writer could never give himself full credit,” says co-editor Jonathan Haupt in his Introduction.
Haupt continues, “While it would have been an easy task to assemble a cultish love-letter collection in celebration of Pat, that is not this book. Pat was a complicated and occasionally contradictory man, which is to say he was human, he was flawed, and he was still in the act of self-discovery, of becoming.”
The essayists in Our Prince of Scribes include: Pulitzer Prize winners Rick Bragg and Kathleen Parker; Grammy winners Barbara Streisand and Janis Ian; Lillian Smith Award winners Anthony Grooms and Mary Hood; National Book Award winner Nikky Finney; James A. Beard Award winners Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart; a corps of New York Times bestsellers, including Ron Rash, Sandra Brown, and Mary Alice Monroe; Conroy biographers Katherine Clark and Catherine Seltzer; longtime Conroy friends Bernie Schein, Cliff Graubart, John Warley, and Walter Edgar; Pat’s students Sallie Ann Robinson and Valerie Sayers; members of the Conroy family; and more.
Each author in this collection shares a slightly different view of Conroy. Through their voices, a vibrant, multifaceted portrait of him comes to life, which sheds new light on the writer and the man. Loosely following Conroy’s own chronology, the essays in Our Prince of Scribes wind through his river of a story, stopping at important ports of call. Cities he called home and longed to visit, along with each book he birthed, become characters that are equally important as the people he touched and loved along the way.
The essays are well written, touching and far-ranging, from memories by a fellow cadet at The Citadel (John Warley), to Dottie Ashley’s recollections starting in a graduate class in poetry criticism (“When Pat Conroy Slept on Our Sofa”), to the man who portrayed Conroy’s alter ego, Ben Meecham, in the film adaptation of The Great Santini. And there’s so much more.
Barbara Streisand, who directed and starred in the movie, The Prince of Tides, writes in the book’s forward, “In bravely telling his story, as only he could, Pat emboldened others to see the difficult truths of their own lives, but he also welcomed us to glimpse the possibility of transformation and salvation through love and loss.”
Co-editor Nicole Seitz says the book’s contributors “connected with Pat through the love of words or food, or through shared sufferings of childhood or existential questioning.”
Anne Rivers Siddons writes in her essay, “If Pat Conroy hadn’t existed, it would have been necessary to invent him.”
So many cherished anecdotes, this book is for anyone passionate about Conroy and his work, for those only moderately familiar with it or not at all, or those simply in search of marvelous writing and storytelling, most of which happens to be true.
“Man wonders but God decides, when to kill the Prince of Tides.”
ABOUT THE EDITORS:
Nicole Seitz is the author of seven novels, including, most recently, The Cage-Maker and Beyond Molasses Creek. She lives in Mount Pleasant, SC.
Jonathan Haupt is the executive director of the Pat Conroy Literary Center and the founding director of the annual Pat Conroy Literary Festival in Beaufort, SC.