Please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com for information on guest blogs and interviews. Please join us between Thanksgiving and New Year's when our authors present original holiday short stories. We hope they will add to the season's festivities! 11/28 Annette Dashofy, 12/3 E. B. Davis, 12/8 KM Rockwood, 12/13 Korina Moss, 12/18 Tammy Euliano, 12/23 Warren Bull, 12/28 Paula Gail Benson Have a wonderful holiday! -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Pat Conroy Literary Center

by Paula Gail Benson

Entrance to
Pat Conroy Literary Center
So many people have admired and respected Pat Conroy and loved his deeply personal and emotional writing. Most recently, on an episode of Ted Lasso, sports psychologist Dr. Sharon Fieldstone admitted to Ted that her favorite book was Prince of Tides. It makes perfect sense and a complementary undercurrent to the program that Dr. Fieldstone would appreciate that book.

For those of us who live in South Carolina, Pat Conroy is simply one of our own. He wasn’t born here, but his military family was stationed in Beaufort, and that became the place he adopted as his hometown. Conroy spoke of the pluff mud with love: “I don’t know of any place that smells like this. It’s a magnificent smell. It’s the smell of where all life comes from. I love that all shrimp, all crab, all oysters are born in the marsh.”

I feel incredibly fortunate to have been surrounded by connections to Pat Conroy. My historian friend Alexia Helsley attended high school with him. Pat’s sister-in-law, Terrye, worked as a law librarian at the University of South Carolina School of Law. Her husband, Tim, was Pat’s youngest brother, an extraordinary poet, and a former member of my local writing group.

At one of the last South Carolina Book Festivals, the Conroy brothers and a sister gathered on stage to reminisce about their life experiences. They spoke genuinely and sincerely before a packed ballroom of listeners.

2014 S.C. Book Festival featuring Conroy panel

One of our former WWK blogging partners, Carla Damron, had her book The Stone Necklace, published under the University of South Carolina Press’ Pat Conroy imprint, Story River. Another former blogging partner, Sam Morton, wrote about attending the Citadel. His work appeared with one of Pat’s essays in the University of South Carolina Press’ Places in the Heart. Sam shared with pride that Pat said he wished he had Sam’s experience at the Citadel.

Sam Morton and Pat Conroy
Pat’s website remains online and contains his blog, where he wrote about his writing life. If you have the chance to visit his adopted hometown of Beaufort, S.C. (pronounced bew like it rhymes with stew), you should visit the Pat Conroy Literary Center at 601 Bladen Street, Beaufort, SC 29902, which is open to the public from Thursday through Sundays from noon to 4:00 p.m. and at other times by appointment.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit earlier this year. Gina Baker, my tour guide, provided a masterful presentation, telling me about Pat’s life as well as showing me the collection. I had the benefit of being the only tourist and took full advantage with many questions.

"Tell me a story."
Gina Baker, my tour guide
The marvelous part of the center is how it places visitors in the midst of Pat Conroy’s world. It has walls full of photos, his father’s flight jacket and medals, a quilt his sister made with a square listing all the siblings and their birthdays (which Pat had difficulty remembering), and a room set up with Pat’s writing desk and a yellow pad. (His father refused to let him take typing, so he always wrote by hand.) A particularly poignant tribute is a portrait of Pat that was completed after his death. It shows him holding out his hands, as if welcoming someone or something. Gina told me that the portrait captured Pat saying, “Tell me a story.”

In the hallway, a bulletin board contains notes and letters that admirers still send, talking about Pat’s influence on their lives. The Center operates a summer program to encourage young writers and offers programs throughout the year for writers and readers of all ages. The Center’s Executive Director is Jonathan Haupt, who worked with Pat at the University Press.

Are you familiar with Pat Conroy’s work? Check out the Pat Conroy Literary Center and you’ll experience the joy he found in writing and gave to so many dedicated readers.

20 comments:

Jim Jackson said...

I remember meeting Pat and his wife at the 2014 South Carolina Book Festival (thanks to Paula getting me on a panel). Cassandra King, Pat's spouse related that she was asked what it was like living with a famous author. Her response was that she didn't know, they'd have to ask Pat.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Thanks for the "tour". I'll add it to my South Carolina bucket list.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Jim, what a wonderful story! At the Center, there are portraits of Pat and Cassandra made completely from words. Very fitting for two authors.

Margaret, you’ll love Beaufort. It’s right on the ocean and has trees draped in Spanish moss. The NeverMore bookstore is a delightful place to visit.

Susan said...

He is one of my favorite authors. His narrative style dripped of honey, and you were right there with him.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Susan, he was always kind and attentive. Once he went to an event without realizing he should have brought an item to auction. He offered the pants he was wearing. Later, his daughter wrote a children’s book about the incident. The pants have been donated to the Center and are proudly on display.

Art Taylor said...

Such a terrific post, Paula! Didn't know about the Center, but will definitely visit if down that way. Pat Conroy spoke at Mason years ago at the Fall for the Book festival, and he surprised everyone when he mentioned that he'd gone to school here, which NO ONE AT MASON HAD KNOWN. The alumni relations staff quickly started checking through their files (he was here for just one semester, I think). Such a gracious, generous man in addition to being a fine writer. Thanks for the post!

Paula Gail Benson said...

Art, thank you. How wonderful that he came to Fall for the Book. That would be a perfect fit! I can believe he spent time at Mason. He always seemed to be soaking up knowledge. I hope you'll have a chance to visit the Center. It's a beautiful tribute to Pat and his work.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

I went to law school with his first wife (The Water is Wide paid for it though the story was changed a bit) and he met his third wife here in Birmingham. When he was "courting" her, he was often seen in our airport. We all have Pat Conroy stories ...

Molly MacRae said...

Wonderful post, Paula. Pat Conroy was an amazing storyteller. I feel as though I've spent days exploring the marshes because of his books. Thanks for giving us the pronunciation for Beaufort, too.

KM Rockwood said...

Great post. I'm happy to have so much information about someone whose work I have enjoyed, but somehow I never looked into his background.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Debra, I want to hear your stories! How fascinating!

Molly, please try to visit the Beaufort marshes and see the Center. It's a truly beautiful place!

Thank you, Kathleen. His facility with words continues to amaze me.

Shari Randall said...

How I love soaking up all these wonderful stories and I wish I had one of my one! What a writer. I was wondering, as someone so familiar with his work, what you thought of the movie versions of his books?

Bob Mangeot said...

Great post, Paula. I'm a big fan of the Conroy Center and of Story River. I've never been, but I would love the experience next time I'm in the neighborhood. Beaufort is a gorgeous harbor town.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Shari, I have to admit a fondness for The Prince of Tides, on which I think Conroy collaborated with Barbra Streisand. Also, I love the story of The Water is Wide, even though it differs from the book.

Thanks, Robert. Do come visit again. Beaufort is a wonderfully unique place.

Paula Gail Benson said...

PS, Shari, I love your story of visiting the ballet!

Kait said...

Wonderful post. Can you believe I've only been acquainted with his work via the screen! I need to remedy that.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Thanks, Kait. His words can be transforming. You can drift away on them.

carla said...

He was so incredibly gracious to me. And just this past weekend I attended a writing conference in Baltimore. The presenter, Tiffany Martin, used a quote from Pat Conroy as an illustration of perfect character development. Damn right it was perfect!!!

Paula Gail Benson said...

Yay, Carla! I know he was so proud and supportive of The Stone Necklace.

Jennifer J. Chow said...

Thanks for sharing this wonderful tribute, Paula! Beaufort sounds lovely.