A consummate storyteller, Conroy in his novels relates tales of family conflict, fathers and father figures, racism, and coming of age, all against the consistent backdrop of the South Carolina lowcountry.
Author. Pat Conroy was born on October 26, 1945, in Atlanta, Georgia, the first of seven children born to Donald Conroy and Frances Peek. Despite numerous moves with his U.S. Marine Corps father, Conroy maintained a southern identity. His father was transferred to Beaufort, South Carolina, in 1961. Conroy enrolled in Beaufort High School, where he starred athletically, academically, and personally. With a difficult home life, Conroy flourished under the encouragement of his English teachers, J. Eugene Norris and R. Millen Ellis, and his principal, William E. Dufford. He enrolled at the Citadel and was graduated in 1967. At the Citadel he was captain of the basketball team and selected most valuable player.
After graduation Conroy taught at Beaufort High School, then at the elementary school on Daufuskie Island, a poor, isolated corner of the South Carolina Sea Islands. Fired by school administrators for his unorthodox approach to teaching his nearly illiterate black students, Conroy turned to writing to vent his frustration and earn a living. The Water Is Wide, a largely autobiographical novel of his experiences on Daufuskie, was published in 1972 and became a critical and commercial success. Turning to writing full time, Conroy followed with four more novels inspired in large measure by his formative and young-adult years: The Great Santini (1976), Lords of Discipline (1980), Prince of Tides (1986), and Beach Music (1995). Each became a national best-seller, and together they established Conroy as one of the nation’s most popular writers and appealing storytellers. He has also published two works of nonfiction: The Boo (1970; a biography of the Citadel’s assistant commandant of cadets) and My Losing Season (2002; a memoir of his senior year at the Citadel). His first four novels were made into major motion pictures, with the film version of The Prince of Tides earning seven Academy Award nominations, including one for Conroy for best screenplay.
At times critics have censured Conroy’s novels for their similarity of characters, themes, and setting. Yet these same traits have attracted legions of loyal readers. A consummate storyteller, Conroy in his novels relates tales of family conflict, fathers and father figures, racism, and coming of age, all against the consistent backdrop of the South Carolina lowcountry. Humor and pathos are frequent bedfellows. Influenced by Thomas Wolfe, Conroy writes deceptively complex sagas with lyrical descriptions of people and places. Steeped in southern history and mores, his stories connect with readers on a variety of levels. With equal parts fiction and autobiography, Conroy writes of growing up in a military family, of coping with the stresses of dysfunctional family life, of the challenges of relationships, and of the ebb and flow of life.
Conroy’s work has been recognized with numerous awards and honors, including the National Endowment for the Arts Award for Achievement in Education (1974), the Georgia Governor’s Award for Arts (1978), and the Lillian Smith Award for fiction from the Southern Regional Council (1981). Closer to home, Conroy has been elected to the South Carolina Hall of Fame and the South Carolina Academy of Authors, was the first recipient of the Governor’s Award in the Humanities for Distinguished Achievement from the South Carolina Humanities Council in 1994, and received the Order of the Palmetto in 2002.
Conroy has been married three times: to Barbara Bolling Jones in 1969; to Lenora Gurevitz in 1981; and to the author Cassandra King in 1995. He has two daughters. Residing on Fripp Island, Conroy continues to pursue his loves–writing, cooking, and living.
Burns, Landon C. Pat Conroy: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1996.