The Southern Agenda

Pat Conroy’s Literary Legacy

Three Southern authors reflect on their favorite books by the bard of the Lowcountry

Illustration: Tim Bower

Even when the late writer Pat Conroy saw a line snaking out the door at one of his book signings, he’d still make time to listen to the stories of each and every fan and aspiring author. After his funeral in March 2016, his wife, his agent, and the mayor of his beloved hometown of Beaufort began discussing ways to honor that generosity. A plaque? A larger-than-life sculpture? “Pat was not a statue guy,” says his wife, the author Cassandra King. “He was an action guy.” In that spirit, the group conceived the idea for the Pat Conroy Literary Center, which opened in October 2016 in a renovated antebellum home on Charles Street. King served as interim executive director, and the honorary board includes Conroy’s friends John Grisham and Barbra Streisand. The space welcomes guests with an open house and an exhibit of Conroy’s personal papers during the Pat Conroy Literary Festival. And in early 2017, the center began rolling out a regular series of readings, lectures, book groups, and writing workshops. “We don’t have Pat with us anymore,” King says, “but we can pick up the generosity of spirit that he had toward other writers and run with it.” —

Three Southern authors reflect on their favorite books by the bard of the Lowcountry

My Losing Season
“There is a passage where Conroy is describing the sound of a basketball bouncing. Whether you love the game of basketball or just love being alive, that sound of leather striking wood is one of the most human things. That’s the beauty of Conroy’s work: It’s not just pretty and it’s not just elegant. It’s human.”—Rick Bragg

The Water Is Wide
“It will always be my favorite book by Pat because it rang so true to my own tumultuous emotions coming of age during segregation. It also revealed the rebel in Pat. If I had known him in those days, I am sure we would’ve been in trouble all the time.”—Dorothea Benton Frank

The Prince of Tides
“‘My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.’ That is the beautiful opening to my favorite Pat Conroy novel. Conroy has many gifts as a writer, but his greatest talent is his ability to pull his readers in and not let us go until the very last word.”—Ron Rash