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- ISBN-13: 9780385530866
- ISBN-10: 0385530862
- Publisher: Nan A. Talese
- Publish Date: October 2016
- Page Count: 320
- Dimensions: 7.1 x 4.9 x 1.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.9 pounds
Pat Conroy's legacy of love and literature
When Pat Conroy died in March at the age of 70, the literary community lost one of its most prolific and beloved voices. Perhaps best known for The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides, Conroy was the author of six novels, four memoirs and one cookbook—all written with great heart, an insatiable curiosity about human nature and a deep reverence for the South that raised him.
But Conroy wasn’t satisfied with 11 books under his belt. Just two years before his death, he reflected, “I believe I’ve got two long novels and three short ones still in me. But my health has to cooperate, and I need to pay more attention to my health. It is not long life I wish for—it is to complete what I have to say about the world I found around me from boyhood to old age.”
As heartbreaking as it is to know that Conroy didn’t get to share those stories with the world, his unmistakable voice comes through loud and clear in A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life. A charming collection of Conroy’s letters, interviews, magazine articles and speeches, A Lowcountry Heart is a true gift to his legions of fans.
Conroy speaks directly to his readers in a series of reproduced blog posts, always opening with “Hey, out there” and ending with “Great love.” He writes about books he’s reading, writers he admires, the big things going on in his life (including a 70th birthday celebration thrown by the University of South Carolina) and the little things on his mind (trying to get in shape). The Conroy that emerges from these pages is the one we’ve read and admired for decades: honest, effusive, passionate, funny and downright lovable. And that’s precisely the man he was.
Pat Conroy in his final author photo.
Speaking from her home in Beaufort, South Carolina, Conroy’s widow, Cassandra King, explains, “Pat is the friendliest person who’s ever lived. He just had such charisma, and he was one of these folks that you felt like you’d known your whole life. Even if you met him for a few minutes, he was so personable and so easy to talk to. . . . And I swear to god, he talked exactly the way he wrote. I think that’s why so many of us felt like we knew him. His books were just him.”
A novelist herself and Conroy’s wife of 20 years, King was one of the driving forces behind A Lowcountry Heart. “After Pat died, it really began to hit us that this was it, and there weren’t going to be any more of these beautiful, wonderful books. And you know, it broke my heart,” she recalls. “It still breaks my heart that he didn’t finish the book he was working on. So it sort of became a mission to collect any of his handwritten notes to see what was left and where.”
Conroy handwrote everything—a pretty amazing feat considering the length of some of his more popular works. When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February, he was 200 pages into a new novel. Set in the 1960s, the novel is based on four young men teaching high school and forming lifelong friendships. King says with a laugh, “I take full credit for this book. Not really, I’m teasing. [But] over the years [Pat] would tell me these great stories. Right out of college, he taught at Beaufort High School . . . with three other young men. He would tell me that none of them knew what they were doing and they would sneak down to each other’s rooms and say, ‘Hey, you got any lesson plans?’ Every time he would tell me one of these stories, I would say, ‘Pat, you’ve got to make that into a book. This is your male friendship book.’ ”
In a note at the beginning of the new collection, Conroy’s longtime editor, Nan A. Talese, writes, “We are still searching his journals for more on this novel, and at some point we may have something to share with you.” In the meantime, Conroy readers can find a different, more personal side of the author in A Lowcountry Heart.
“[It] brings me some comfort to know that this book is out there,” his widow says, sure that Conroy would be proud of the work done to assemble the collection.
Conroy would also be proud of the efforts by King and friends to open The Pat Conroy Literary Center, a “passionate and inclusive reading and writing community” in Beaufort that will honor one of the greatest joys of Conroy’s life: championing other writers. As King explains, “We’re doing this as a living legacy to Pat. . . . He was so encouraging to other writers. He got involved with Story River Books [an imprint of the University of South Carolina Press] and he loved doing that. So I’d just want anyone who has ever loved Pat Conroy’s writings to come see this once we get running. Hopefully it will be the beginning of [next] year.”
The last few pages of A Lowcountry Heart are remembrances from friends, who describe Conroy’s passion, wisdom and devotion to the people he loved. As King notes, “He was certainly larger than life. Everything about him. He came into a room and he filled up the room, he had that charisma. So when he loved, he loved—his friends and their kids, they were the greatest, they were the best in the world.”
Laughing, she adds, “His whole life was hyperbole. If he didn’t like you, you were the most horrible person that ever lived. It worked both ways.”
King says Conroy truly loved writing, and because he wrote everything by hand, he took the time to think things through before he put pen to paper. She says, “There’s a great picture of him where he’s sitting thinking at the [writing] desk, and that’s how I think about him. He was so often just absorbed in what he was doing.”
It seems that’s how we should all remember the great Conroy—immersed in the worlds he was creating for his devoted readers, writing the stories he was born to tell.