Saturday, March 5, 2016

Pat Conroy Passes Over that Wide Water

When I was in grad school at the University of South Carolina in the late 80's and early 90's, two literary figures towered over us:  James Dickey and Pat Conroy.  James Dickey was actually part of the faculty still; he came to grad school gatherings and played his guitar.  I never worked with him, but I had friends who did, and they spoke of his huge kindnesses and generosity.

People today will be saying similar things about Pat Conroy, who died yesterday.  I don't remember having any encounters with him in grad school or beyond, when I worked in a community college in the Charleston area, but one of my friends had read all of his works.  We were both slogging away in teaching jobs that left us too exhausted to do much of what we really wanted to do, which was to write.  We took great comfort from her reading of Conroy's The Water is Wide.  Here was a man who had taught under more adverse conditions than the ones we faced, and he still managed to be a writer.

I must have read his books along the way, but they don't stick out in my reading memory.  I was reading so much then.  He was competing with Toni Morrison, with Louise Erdrich, with so many others who mapped the worlds of family and societal dysfunction so brilliantly, so beautifully.

But occasionally, I come across a line of his that takes my breath away.  Here is the opening line of The Prince of Tides:  “My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.”

For more on Conroy's life, see this article in The Post and Courier.  I love the way the article ends: 

"At the end of “The Prince of Tides,” the main character, Tom Wingo, offered what is a fitting epitaph to Conroy’s life:

“He was a coach, a teacher and a well-loved man. And it is enough, Lord. It is enough.” "
May we all be so fortunate to live our lives so well so as to be remembered this fondly.

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