Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pat Conroy: Lowcountry Treasure

This year as every year I searched the Internet today looking for a post or two about the birth of the American novelist, Pat Conroy, born in Atlanta on this day in 1945. Again, there was nothing to find other than the obligatory and brief single liner. And so I am left to bring readers more than a name and a date about this Lowcountry treasure, his rich descriptive writing and intense webs of characters forged out of family and place.

Even in his fiction, Pat Conroy has a way of writing about himself and all of us as we face the challenges and adversities - mental and physical - of growing into young adulthood and beyond. Stated another way, Conroy has extraordinary skill in probing the long childhoods many of us face as we grow and change. For him, it's an arduous journey, carried out with the same reality that comes with recognizing nature as a cruel mother. Yes, there is beauty and light along the way, but the mountains can't stand without the valleys, and Conroy's reality has its share of both. Some may not enjoy such a journey, but it is a good dose of reality and I and millions of other readers hold Conroy in high esteem. 

Conroy's book, The River is Wide, was five years old when I moved to the edge of the ocean east of Savannah and a mere five miles across the sound from the book's setting on Daufuskie Island. In a matter of months, the sea islands captured me and, after living there eleven years, I was never quite the same again.  More than thirty years have passed since those days when I sat reading late in the quiet of night feeling and hearing the low frequency vibrations from ship screws in the Savannah River channel a few thousand feet away. That may seem like an odd recollection from the complex experience of a natural setting and its cultural overlay, but it approaches the unique and remains one of many fond Lowcountry memories. For the most part - small flashes of creativity being the exception - I simply observed and enjoyed those experiences. Pat Conroy, on the other hand, took the everyday and unique events in his life journey and turned them into some of the most lyrical writing of our time.

His latest book, The Death of Santini: A Story of A Father and His Son (2013) explores the intense and often suffocating relationship Conroy experienced with his domineering father. It is an autobiographical journey ending in a fragile reconciliation reconfirming the powerful bonds shared by every family.

The image above comes from a screen capture of a UNCTV interview conducted in February 2014. Interested readers may view this 27 minute program here. Well worth your time.

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