“Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy”
Editors: Nicole Seitz and Jonathan Haupt
Publisher: University of Georgia Press
Price: $29.95 (Hardcover)
Volumes like this one, designed to remember and honor a beloved figure, often a writer, have happily, become more frequent of late.
Here in Alabama Rebecca Barrett and Carolyn Haines put together “Moments with Eugene,” in which about 70 contributors wrote up their memories of Eugene Walter, from his childhood in Mobile through his last days.
Pat Conroy was one of the contributors to that volume, but the contributors came from all walks of life. Likewise in George Plimpton’s “Truman Capote” there were contributions from celebrities and from law enforcement officers in Kansas from when Capote was researching “In Cold Blood.”
Like Plimpton’s book, the 65 short pieces in “Our Prince of Scribes” are arranged in chronological order, but because all the contributors are writers we have less of a biography and more of an outpouring of love and gratitude from the members of Pat Conroy’s tribe.
Therefore, many of these tributes are similar. Conroy was known, revered in fact, for his encouragement of new writers, young writers, writers who found themselves stuck on the latest project. Many tell of how he generously wrote blurbs, wrote forewords, boosted them at conferences, bought their books, insisted that these nobodies sign them for him. He would actually read those books and, often, communicated his admiration later.
Conroy, the industrious writer, tried to read four hours a day.
Once a relationship was made with Conroy, he meant to keep it going. Many, many of the writers tell of phone calls received, often late at night, which began “Well, it looks as if I am the one who is going to have to keep this friendship alive.” Conroy, like many in his generation, liked talking on the phone.
Calls from Conroy were welcome and, as several noted, necessary, since Pat Conroy did not answer his own phone, ever, and rarely opened his mail. Rumors floated that there was a room full of unopened mail.
Conroy could not be, in the deepest sense of the word, “friends” with dozens, hundreds of people.
Everybody knew that.
But it was OK because his warmth and exuberance made people FEEL special. The emotion was real, even if the phone calls were spaced out over years. At the next conference or panel, you would get a bear hug from Pat and he would remember your spouse’s name, comment on your last book and ask about your next. Conroy knew how to CONNECT.
Some feelings about Conroy all these writers shared. But a few connected with him for a very particular reason: “The Great Santini,” novel or movie, spoke to them. They too had been abused as children.
George Singleton on FIRST meeting Conroy, says “My father was a rough, hard man at times.” Conroy replies: “Man, I’m sorry. And you loved him.” It brings Singleton to tears.
Connie May Fowler was in the dumps, depressed by her parents’ “violent relationship,” her mother’s madness and abuse, her father’s death, when she met Conroy who opened with “Hey, aren’t you Connie May Fowler. I love your books. You’re the real thing.”
Maybe it saved her life.
It is a part of pop psychology that Pat Conroy showed such “Great Love” because, with his unhappy childhood, he needed everyone to like him. Maybe so. But whatever the cause, the world could sure use more of the kindness and generosity he spread wherever he went.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” His most recent book is Belles’ Letters 2, a collection of short fiction by Alabama women.