Friday, December 16, 2016

Pat Conroy's last words...

2016 has been a horrible year to be famous.  So many great people have died, including Pat Conroy, who was (and still is) one of my favorite authors.  As much as I loved his novels, I probably enjoyed his non-fiction works much more.  In the wake of Conroy's death last March, his latest book 
A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life, was published in late October.  I have been reading this last work and remembering Conroy.

A Lowcountry Heart is basically a collection of Conroy's blog posts, speeches, interviews and even letters he wrote.  It also includes tributes from friends, as well as his wife, Cassandra King, and the eulogy delivered at his funeral, which was open to the public.  I was one of his blog subscribers, so I had read some of the ones that were included in his last book.  Still, it was good to have the posts all in one volume.  I also appreciated the other aspects of this book, the speeches and letters Conroy penned.  I was particularly impressed by a letter to the editor Conroy wrote to a newspaper in Charleston, West Virginia after he received word that two of his books, The Prince of Tides and Beach Music, had been banned by a high school.  A high school student had written to him in great distress and he went to bat for her.

During his lifetime, it wasn't uncommon for Pat Conroy to take up a cause.  I remember in the mid 1990s, when female college student Shannon Faulkner was forcing Conroy's alma mater, The Citadel, to admit women.  She faced scorn and derision from many people.  Conroy very publicly and enthusiastically supported her.  Ultimately, Faulkner was unable to hack it at The Citadel, but she did help make history and change the long single sex traditions at both The Citadel and Virginia Military Institute.

While I can't say that books of essays and writings usually thrill me, knowing that these are Conroy's last remarks make this final book worthy reading.  A Lowcountry Heart will not be my favorite Conroy book.  I think that honor goes to My Losing Season or perhaps The Death of Santini.  But it will remain a treasured part of my library as I remember one of the few fiction authors who never failed to make me laugh and appreciate the beauty of language.  What A Lowcountry Heart offers is yet another intimate look at the man behind the lush, vivid, colorful language so prevalent in Conroy's novels.  

Some of the blog posts included in this book are particularly entertaining.  I enjoyed reading about how he became acquainted with his personal trainer, Mina, a Japanese woman who spoke little English and did her best to help Conroy reclaim his body.  Sadly, pancreatic cancer took him anyway, but Mina no doubt helped make those last months healthier.

I was lucky enough to get to hear Conroy speak when I was a student at the University of South Carolina.  He was actually filling in for Kurt Vonnegut, another favorite author of mine, who had just had a house fire and wasn't able to attend.  Vonnegut died not long after I heard Conroy speak in his place.  I remember I had a healthcare finance exam the next day, which I ended up getting a D on.  I probably would have gotten a D anyway, so it was worth going to see Pat Conroy.  I will always treasure that memory, even if I didn't get to meet the man in person.  He was every bit as real as he seems in his words.

I think I'd give this last volume four out of five stars, mainly because it feels a bit unfinished.  I recognize A Lowcountry Heart as one last gift to Conroy's admirers.  I am grateful to have it available as a last goodbye from one of the South's best writers.

2 comments:

  1. Celebrities seem to be dropping like flies in recent weeks.

    how wonderful to have seen Conroy in person.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe they all fear a Trump presidency.

      Delete

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