Celebrated a Lowcountry Legend

The great Pat Conroy: His legacy emerges with the first annual Pat Conroy Literary Festival Oct. 21-23, 2016.

Last October, the city of Beaufort and the University of South Carolina, Beaufort welcomed hundreds of people from all over the country to celebrate the 70th birthday of Pat Conroy, the greatest living Southern writer at that time.  The three day celebration included Conroy family members, world renowned writers, famous actors who starred in The Great Santini, and The Lords of Discipline, top editors, publishers, and fans.  The celebration was so great that there was much talk of making it an annual event.


Shortly thereafter, Conroy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, to which he succumbed on March 4 of this year.  More than a thousand people attended his funeral, and the outpouring of love for Conroy, whose generosity knew no bounds, and was as grand as his personality, does not subside.  This October 20 – 23 marks the first ever Pat Conroy Literary Festival, which will be an annual event to celebrate Southern literature.


Coordinated by the University of South Carolina Press and the USCB Center of the Arts, the theme this year is “Place as Character and Muse in Southern Literature.”  Festival Director and USC Press Director, Mr. Jonathan Haupt says of the festival, “This is not a funeral, but a celebration with annual Conroy-based themes.”  Anyone of us who have loved Conroy’s works knows how his characterizations of his beloved South Carolina Lowcountry landscape are akin to those that may be reserved for lovers.  His continuous quest as a military brat to find a place to call home is a continuous under current that flows though all his works.  His famous opening lines from The Prince of Tides, “My wound is geography.  It is also my anchorage, my port of call,” is exemplary of the importance of place as metaphor.  His love affair with the Lowcountry oozes throughout his works in passages such as,

pat conroy

“I would have to take you to the marsh on a spring day, flush the great blue heron from its silent occupation. Scatter marsh hens as we sink to our knees in mud, open you an oyster with a pocketknife and feed it to you from the shell and say, ‘There. That taste. That’s the taste of my childhood.’ I would say, ‘Breathe deeply,’ and you would breathe and remember that smell for the rest of your life, the bold, fecund aroma of the tidal marsh, exquisite and sensual, the smell of the South in heat, a smell like new milk, semen and spilled wine, all perfumed with seawater.”


Deputy Director of the Festival, and Conroy protégé and friend, Ellen Malphrus explains about this year’s presenting writers, “They are all local this year.  Ron Rash is our lead presenter, who was originally from Beaufort.”  Rash is the one Conroy called, “the greatest Southern writer today,” and has written many novels about Appalachian culture and landscape, tow of which have been turned into major motion pictures, The World Made Straight, and Serena.  His famous line in The World Made Straight  , “Landscape is destiny,” is one of the most quoted lines about the importance of place in literature. 

Additional presenters include Katherine Clark, Dorothea Benton Frank, Cassandra King, Ray McManus, Alice Munroe, Sallie Ann Robinson, Bernie Schein, Maggie Schein, Daniel Cross Turner, and John Warley.  Most presenters have been personally associated with Conroy as a friend, a mentor and editor at his imprint at USC, Story River Books.


On top of all the writer presentations, there will be a screening of Rash’s The World Made Straight, musical and theatrical performances, and writing workshops.  Tours of Beaufort will be conducted by Conroy’s best, oldest, and most colorful friend and author, Bernie Schein along with his daughter and talented writer, Maggie Schein. 


Coinciding with all theses events, the grand opening of the new Pat Conroy Literary Center will be held with a special exhibition of photography featuring Southern Writers at Home.  And the ultimate reveal will be that of Conroy’s last published work A Lowcountry Heart, a compilation of letters, emails, interviews, articles, blogs, speeches, and other moving tributes to the Great Conroy.  For all details on the festival, visit  www.sc.edu/uscpress/microsites/conroyfestival/