Pat Conroy Literary Center: Poets Respond to Race
From The Island Packet
Column and photo by David Lauderdale
Can We Talk About Race?
[caption id="attachment_29993" align="alignright" width="250"] Barbara Hood Laurie of Beaufort brought a student newspaper of 1971 to the Poets Respond to Race reading and community discussion on Feb. 20, 2017, at Grace Chapel AME Church in Beaufort. It was the first public program of the year for the new Pat Conroy Literary Center.[/caption]
Somehow, I knew we’d end up holding hands.
For 90 minutes, we had been comfortable on our red pew cushions in the Grace Chapel AME Church in Beaufort — listening to some uncomfortable words.
This gathering was about race, told through the taut words of poetry.
And it was about Pat Conroy, who would have appreciated any afflicting of the comfortable that took place.
It was the first event of the year for the new Pat Conroy Literary Center down the street.
Poetry was chosen because poetry made the rivers of words flow from Conroy, who died almost a year ago.
Race was chosen because Conroy was a champion for racial equality. His adulthood began just as institutional segregation began squealing to a stop like a rusty locomotive.
Poets Al Black of Columbia and Bamberg native Len Lawson led the event, as they have done in similar “Poets Respond to Race” gatherings around the region.
They wanted to stir up a conversation “people don’t usually have in mixed company.”
One after another, seven poets read words crafted to cut sharp and deep.
Al Black’s “bones of souls that line the ocean floor” jerked our comfortable minds to the middle passage of the slave trade.
The words of University of South Carolina Beaufort professor Ellen Malphrus took us into the custodian’s closet downstairs at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. She wrote of the mop that would soak up the blood when nine people were killed in a racially motivated massacre almost two years ago.
Quitman Marshall of Beaufort told of this high school classmate, the late Lee Atwater, who exploited racial divides in his political strategies.
Susan Madison of St. Helena Island wrote of a history that “both haunts us and emboldens us.”
Marcus Amaker, Charleston’s first poet laureate, said we use language to divide us — words like Democrat, Republican, tall, short. He wondered who decided to call us black and white, when he looks down and sees brown. “I am not black or white,” he said. “I am awake.”
State poet laureate Marjory Wentworth of Mount Pleasant read “One River, One Boat.” She wrote it for the 2015 governor’s inauguration but it tackled the Confederate flag, and she was told there was not enough time at that long ceremony for her to read it.
Wentworth was called on to write a poem about the Emanuel 9 two days after it happened, and to do it in a day. She fashioned it as a prayer called “Holy City” and called on the words of the slain pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney of Ridgeland: “Only love can conquer hate.”
An Englishman choked up when he stood to tell about losing his wife, overcoming cancer, and searching around town for a church when he was welcomed with open arms at Grace Chapel AME.
It’s not a place where white people usually go.
But they did on this night. And they heard Barbara Hood Laurie praise the poets for their ability to clearly articulate “feelings we all have had.”
She said she was a high school senior when integration was forced on Beaufort, and three high schools were merged in 1971. She was angry at missing her long-anticipated senior year at Robert Smalls High.
She brought a student newspaper from 1971 that her mother had saved because it had a story in it about Conroy being fired from his job teaching on Daufuskie Island.
“This is 1971, but so many things are still the same,” she said.
But to her, the poets offered a release valve and a way to healing.
The church’s pastor, the Rev. Jeannine Smalls, said her granddaughter had been traumatized by the Emanuel 9 shootings. She feared white people would come to shoot black people.
“Our grandchildren need to see us mingling together,” Smalls said.
Poet Al Black said 400 years of purposeful, institutionalized racism has only one antidote.
“We need to desegregate our living room couches and backyard barbecues,” he said. “You’ve got to invite them. The only way to do this is purposeful action.”
Someone called for a photograph to be taken of the integrated crowd in a “black” church.
Then we held hands.
Pat Conroy to be celebrated at public memorial event
From The Beaufort Gazette
Article by Stephen Fastenau; photo by Todd Bennett - KRT
[caption id="attachment_26272" align="alignright" width="250"] The late Pat Conroy is shown with his wife Cassandra King[/caption]
Fans and friends of late Beaufort author Pat Conroy will have another chance to say goodbye next month.
Conroy will be celebrated with a public memorial at 5 p.m. May 14 in Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. Conroy’s wife, Cassandra King, as well as friends and fellow writers Bernie Schein, Ellen Malphrus, Patti Callahan Henry, John Warley and historian Walter Edgar are expected to attend and participate. Singer Marlena Smalls will perform some of Conroy’s favorite songs.
Conroy died March 4 at age 70 following a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Planning for the public memorial began about the time of his funeral.
People who weren’t able to make the funeral or stayed away fearing the large crowd will now have another setting to remember Conroy, said University of South Carolina Press director Jonathan Haupt, who worked closely with Conroy through his Story River Books imprint and helped organize the memorial.
“Certainly the need has not gone away,” Haupt said. “The loss still seems raw and new for a lot of people.”
The best-selling novelist will also be recognized with the annual Pat Conroy Literary Festival, held Oct. 20-23 this year in Beaufort.
The schedule for the festival should be complete in the next few days, Haupt said. After a successful days-long celebration for Conroy’s 70th birthday this past fall, organizers decided to continue the event.
The lineup looks to be as much a celebration of Conroy as it is a nod to the Southern writing and novelists he worked to foster.
“He was a very generous person,” USC Beaufort Center for the Arts director Bonnie Hargrove said.
As opposed to the weekend-long celebration in the fall that will feature a full slate of fellow writers and family members, the list of presenters for the May memorial needed to be short.
Haupt wanted people who could speak directly of what Conroy meant to his friends and fans and keep the program within about an hour. All the participants were willing, he said.
Warley is Conroy’s friend, author and former classmate at The Citadel. Conroy met Malphrus during a trip to Maine, pushed her to finish her book “Untying the Moon” and was there as Malphrus co-chaired his birthday festival last year.
Callahan Henry was also a participant in the birthday festival and is a fellow best-selling author.
“He crossed that wide river and with him he took so much light, so much brightness, a brokenness that he turned to beauty,” she wrote on her Facebook page after Conroy’s death. “The world is better for having him and dimmer without him.”
Any fear of the outdoor memorial becoming too somber should be erased when Conroy’s longtime friend and noted jokester Schein begins to speak.
Schein was fond of telling people he actually wrote Conroy’s books, once told Conroy the president wanted the author to visit the White House and caused Conroy to dodge calls from Barbara Streisand — fearing a Schein prank — when she wanted to turn his “Prince of Tides” into a movie.
“I think we’re all still mourning in our own way, but there is a need to laugh and celebrate and remember,” Haupt said.
Remembering Pat Conroy
Image: Pat Conroy received the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Governor's Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010. Here he autographs a book for a fan prior to the awards ceremony.
Find additional tributes to Pat Conroy on the Island Packet website.
From the Island Packet
Article by David Lauderdale
[caption id="attachment_25574" align="alignright" width="350"] Pat Conroy, Arts Commissioner Bud Ferillo and artist Jonathan Green at the 2010 Verner Awards presentation. Conroy and Green received awards for Lifetime Achievement[/caption]
Pat Conroy, who arrived in Beaufort as a teenage Marine brat and found both a home and palette for his best-selling novels, died Friday at his home on Battery Creek.
“The water is wide but he has now crossed over,” said his wife, Cassandra King, through a family friend.
Conroy, 70, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer only four weeks ago. When he announced it Feb. 15 on Facebook, he said, “I intend to fight it hard.”
He died at 7:43 p.m., surrounded by loved ones and family.
Stomach pain was at first thought to be pancreatitis. But further testing confirmed shortly before the public announcement that it was pancreatic cancer, which spread rapidly.
His lyrical novels painted harsh pictures of inadequate schools, an abusive father and South Carolina’s military college, The Citadel. He tackled threats to the Lowcountry environment with equal vigor. But he loved each of his subjects, and the town he adopted after 23 moves in 16 years loved him back.
Beaufort historian Lawrence S. Rowland said Conroy put Beaufort on a national stage through books like “Prince of Tides” and “The Great Santini.” And those novels brought Hollywood to town, and the stars would return for other blockbusters like “Forrest Gump” and “The Big Chill.”
“I can’t imagine anything other than World War II that promoted Beaufort any more than what Pat did,” Rowland said. “The value of Pat’s publicity — to put Beaufort on the silver screen and advertise it, and the millions of fans who read his every word — is hard to measure.
“I know there’s controversy, and I think he’s entitled to any opinion he chooses, but the amount of good he’s done is exceptional. It’s a huge economic boon to this town and he’s the kind of guy we ought to raise a statue for.”
Beaufort Mayor and close friend Billy Keyserling said, “His impact has really been to the region and opening up eyes, concurrently with the growth of the greater Lowcountry. He was a part of turning the eyes to this part of the world.”Jonathan Haupt, director of the University of South Carolina Press, said, “It’s a sad, sad day for South Carolina and for literature.”
Conroy appeared to feel fine when the University of South Carolina Beaufort hosted the “Pat Conroy at 70” festival organized by Haupt in late October. Numerous writers, friends and family members came to celebrate a life that was on an uptick.
Conroy had never been busier, more productive, or more public. In addition to his own writing, he was promoting a stable of other writers in the Story River Books imprint he edited for the University of South Carolina Press.
Conroy had been on a health kick for four years. He said that’s when he nearly died of his own bad habits, so he quit drinking, hired a nutritionist, joined the YMCA, lost weight, andlast year opened the Mina & Conroy Fitness Studio in Port Royal with his personal trainer
“There is nothing on my resume that indicates I’ll be successful in this unusual endeavor,” he wrote on his web page. “But I’m doing it because there are four or five books I’d like to write before I meet with Jesus of Nazareth — as my mother promised me — on the day of my untimely death, or reconcile myself to a long stretch of nothingness as my non-believing friends insist.”
Home at last
Alexia Jones Helsley says she was Conroy’s first editor.
The daughter of the Baptist preacher in town was editor of the Tidal Wave newspaper at Beaufort High School, where Conroy first latched onto the Lowcountry in the remarkable class of 1963.
“He took a track meet and turned it into a race between good and the Devil,” Helsley said. “It was hilarious.”
Another time, principal Bill Dufford asked Conroy as president of the senior class to address the girls before a powder puff football game.
“He took a napkin from the cafeteria and wrote this little poem on it and got up and read it,” Helsley said. “We thought he was so talented, but we had no idea how talented he was.”
Conroy was a basketball star and Best All Around in a class that had six National Merit Finalists, and included Daisy Youngblood, a sculptor who won a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant”; Daun van Ee, editor of the papers of Dwight D. Eisenhower at the Library of Congress; and Julie Zachowski, retired director of the Beaufort County library system. Helsley is an archivist who has written a history of Beaufort. Conroy is among three members of the class inducted into the school’s hall of fame.
Conroy wrote often of inspiring teachers there, like Millen Ellis and novelist Ann Head, but especially Eugene Norris.
“He taught me to value the old, to sharpen my eye for the most intricate detail, and to strengthen all the appetites upon which beauty itself fed,” Conroy would later write. “In the end, Gene Norris handed me the key to my first hometown and made it feel like the most sublime gift.”
A new life
Conroy returned to Beaufort High as a teacher after graduating from The Citadel, but a much different school on Daufuskie Island cast the die for his life.
“The Water is Wide” — and the movie version “Conrack” — described Conroy’s year battling authorities to stretch the stunningly limited opportunities and achievement of students on a remote island.
A number of Beaufort women, including Harriet Keyserling, typed portions of the manuscript written in longhand on a legal pad in a breathless dash to get it to his publisher on time. It was published in 1972, launching a new career.
When Conroy was inducted into Penn Center’s 1862 Circle in 2011, he was cited for helping show the world the South’s unequal public education for blacks and whites. He told the crowd that despite the abuse he took for saying it, he thought he got it right.
It set in motion a career of writing what others would not dare write. It cost him relationships at his alma mater and in his family.
In 1976, he published the look inside his family of seven children, a beautiful mother and a boorish fighter pilot. In “The Great Santini” he told of his father. Col. Don Conroy was a heroic Marine, but he beat his wife and children. To the outside world, the book was a smash hit. The movie was filmed in Beaufort.
Conroy was banned from campus after the 1980 book about The Citadel, “Lords of Discipline.”
As other books chronicled the rough edges of a life like his own, with two divorces, suicidal thoughts and psychiatric issues, Conroy’s smooth writing and brutal honesty made him a regular on the New York Times best-seller list. Other titles include “South of Broad” set in Charleston, “The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life” and “My Reading Life.” His books were sprinkled with local favorites from Dr. Herbert Keyserling to Snowball the albino dolphin.
He later found peace with The Citadel, and wrote another book about his experience there, “My Losing Season.”
And he found a happy marriage to novelist Cassandra King. They have lived on the banks of Battery Creek in Beaufort, which they both can see from their writing rooms, and where he could smell the pluff mud late in the day while enjoying a cigar and a Lowcountry sunset only he could put in words.
He had lived in Atlanta, Italy and San Francisco. But in 1993, he came home for good.
Conroy also found peace with his father, the Great Santini. That was chronicled in the 2013 book drenched with the people and places of Beaufort, “The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son.”
“If my father knew how many tears his children had shed since his death,” Conroy wrote in his father’s eulogy, “he would be mortally ashamed of us all and begin yelling that he should’ve been tougher on us all, knocked us into better shape — that he certainly didn’t mean to raise a passel of kids so weak and tacky they would cry at his death.”
‘OK to be in therapy’
As Conroy’s former therapist, no one may know him quite like Marion O’Neill, a psychiatrist and the inspiration for the psychiatrist in Conroy’s 1986 book, “Prince of Tides.”
The best-selling novel was later turned in a 1991 movie with Barbra Streisand playing the lead role.
O’Neill treated Conroy during two periods of his life — first in Georgia in the 1970s and then in the 1980s at her Hilton Head Island practice while Conroy was working on another best-selling novel, “Beach Music.”
“He’s always made the statement that I saved his life twice,” said O’Neill, 86, who retired in 2010 when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. “It means that I kept him from going off the rails.”
O’Neill, who now lives in her hometown of Norwell, Mass., won’t dish on her therapy sessions with Conroy.
Rather, her focus is on the acceptance that he brought to psychological treatment.
“He made it OK to be in therapy and to say you had some mental problems,” O’Neill said. “That was his biggest contribution because people always thought they had to hide it and it was a secret … It was particularly true for men.”
While the two friends haven’t talked in a few years, O’Neill still chuckles when she remembers Conroy’s wicked sense of humor.
Following the release of “Prince of Tides,” many wondered if Conroy and O’Neill had had a romantic relationship like the two characters in the book.
“He was often asked if he had slept with his psychiatrist. And he would say, ‘No, only because she wouldn’t let me,’ ” O’Neill said. “He always had a great sense of humor.”
Conroy used his pen occasionally as a local activist.
In 2006, when the city sought to annex rural land along U.S. 21 north of town that could open development to 16,000 residences and 40,000 people, Conroy fired back.
“For the life of me, I cannot understand why Mayor Bill Rauch and most of the members of the City Council seem to loathe the exquisite and endangered town of Beaufort,” he wrote in The Beaufort Gazette.
“I’ve made a career out of praising this town’s irreplaceable beauty and the incomparable sea islands that form the archipelago that makes Beaufort County the loveliest spot on Earth to me. A man once told me while we watched a full tide coming up on Fripp Island accompanied by a full moon, ‘The only thing I worry about heaven is that it won’t be as pretty as this.’ That was 10 years ago. Now, my greatest worry is that developers are going to figure out a way to pave the ocean.”
In the same piece, Conroy was open about Beaufort’s influence on his life:
“Am I anti-business and anti-progress? I think somewhat. But I believe I have brought more tourists and outsiders to visit these islands than anyone I can think of and have praised their beauty all over the world in books you can open up and smell the great salt marshes of our rivers and creeks. I have written more about Beaufort County than anyone who has ever lived here, and I believe with all my heart that I love this place as much as anyone who has ever crossed the Combahee River.”
In another op-ed on the same issue, Conroy used his passion to stir others to action:
“I owe my writing life to this spot of earth. This extraordinary geography has provided the joy of my youth and the comfort of my old age. In my last breath, I believe Beaufort is worth fighting for. I urge all of you to come to the last meetings. This is our homeland — the place that makes our hearts sing. It needs us to rise up in its defense. It needs us now — right now.”
More recently, he lent his name to a fundraising drive for athletic facilities at the new John Paul II Catholic School in Okatie.
He has aided fundraisers for USCB and the Beaufort County Open Land Trust.
In 2014, the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce created an award in his name.
When he received the first Pat Conroy Palmetto Achievement Award, Conroy joked that he must have outlived his enemies.
And he told the audience:
“Two questions a military brat can never answer is ‘where are you from’ and ‘where are you going to be buried,’ I can now answer that. I am from Beaufort. And this is where I’m going to be buried.”
Beaufort’s film festival stars South Carolina
From the Island Packet
Column by David Lauderdale; photo by Delayna Earley
Beaufort International Film Festival executive director Ron Tucker is happy as a one-eared cow.
He says the festival that wrapped up Saturday had record attendance for screenings, opening ceremony and closing ceremony.
Seven screenings drew more than 400 people, he said. The closing ceremony attracted 500.
The ninth edition of the Beaufort Film Society's festival was supposed to put a spotlight on filmmakers. The goal is to get filmmakers back to Beaufort to make movies.
It is supposed to spotlight South Carolina talent and the blockbuster charm of Beaufort.
That's where the one-eared cow comes into the picture.
Along with Pat Conroy.
And Andie MacDowell.
And Beaufort's largest group selfie.
And the first-ever Spirit & Pride of South Carolina award.
Tucker said the award is to recognize a body of work contributing positively to the state or Beaufort in the fields of film, television or music.
It is to go to a native of South Carolina or someone who has lived here long enough to be called a South Carolinian. That in itself could recreate a war of Northern aggression. In some communities, that could be four generations. In others, an oldtimer is anyone whose car has cooled off in the driveway.
The award went to model and actress Andie MacDowell, who enjoyed a long stay at the Cuthbert House Inn after sitting through last week's 3D traffic jam in Okatie.
She's from the peachy Upstate town of Gaffney, best known for its gigantic, peach-like orb on Interstate 85.
So, yes, she's one of us. And Tucker came up with inviting her down to get this award after reading her piece in the book "South" by Beaufort's Wendy Pollitzer.
MacDowell told Tucker she was honored to be considered, and boy, wouldn't it be nice if she could meet Pat Conroy. Conroy, as it turns out, has been drooling over MacDowell for some time and was glad to meet her and introduce her award and then give her his remarks written by hand on a white legal pad.
Tucker said the piece of art that came with the honor also had to be homegrown.
It is 8 pounds of glass in the shape of a palmetto tree with a crescent moon above. Its wild and shiny red, yellow and blue colors were the handwork of One Eared Cow Glass in Columbia.
It was as South Carolina as a bag of boiled peanuts, with the style of Dizzy Gillespie.
And the festival that honors behind-the-scenes movie makers but got a lot of attention thanks to a real, South Carolina star, faded to black with a happy ending.
Follow columnist and senior editor David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.
Pat Conroy named editor-at-large for new USC Press fiction series
Best-selling author Pat Conroy will become editor-at-large for a new fiction series offered by the University of South Carolina Press — a series Conroy says just might prevent the demise of the Great American Novel and help repay the debt he owes to the state that has made him famous for fiction-writing.
The first book in the new Story River Books series won’t appear until 2014, but Conroy was so excited by the “seductive powers” of the series that he volunteered his name and his services during a recent lunch with press director Jonathan Haupt.
It came as a happy coincidence that Haupt had named the nascent series after a river Conroy went swimming in as a kid, he says. That river ran along Fripp Island. Today, Conroy lives in Beaufort.
“We could start something that could maybe become a center . . . for terrific stories that can’t get heard in any other way,” says Conroy, 67. “This is going to be one of those (efforts) that saves the novel in this country.
“(That) they’re doing fiction at the USC Press seems amazing to me, and wonderful.”
University, or “academic,” presses usually are known for nonfiction, often histories. Story River Books will publish fiction with universal appeal but rooted in South Carolina, including novels and short-story collections.
Conroy frequently cites his love of South Carolina people and geography for the success of his rich prose.
“Literature can choose anywhere it wants to be born,” he says, “anywhere the sting and loveliness of language goes to dwell.
“I want Story River Books to find and nurture those voices, and for writers young and old in this infinitely variable state to be recognized and heard. , . . . Stories matter in a state like South Carolina . . .”
Read the entire article.
Pat Conroy will appear at the South Carolina Book Festival May 18. Visit the festival website
Via: The State