Who only knows the number of writers who have sought out and ended up in the South Carolina Lowcountry after – and because of – reading Pat Conroy’s lush prose about the wild and wonderful land he claimed as his hometown? To my knowledge, no head count is available, as this beloved penman garnered millions of fans around the world, writers and readers alike. What’s known for sure is that the area is live with authors of every ilk, many of those, quite talented. That should come as no surprise, as a novelist this lyrical, a born storyteller, and so widely admired, is truly inspiring.
Just “listen” to this quote from his Prince of Tides:
“To describe our growing up in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, 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.”A Beloved Writer’s Legacy
Whew! No doubt nature’s magic works on the creative spirit here. Not that all local writers followed Conroy’s North Star. But those who have are sure to smile at the mention of his name. If you haven’t already, take a gander through Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy, edited by Nicole Seitz and Jonathan Haupt, and you’ll see.
For an inkling of the depth of talent in these parts, following are but a few area writers in several genres. Though I haven’t asked, I’d bet Pat influenced the majority – if not all – in some way. Readers, check out their websites for more info.
John Warley (johnwarley.com): Like Conroy, a Citadel grad. Author of the storied military institute’s recent history, a short story collection, and six novels. His latest, Jury of One, hits the stands in April. Says best-selling novelist Cassandra King (cassandrakingconroy.com), Conroy’s widow, popular Beaufort novelist, and author of Tell Me a Story: My Life with Pat Conroy, “This fast-paced, skillfully rendered courtroom drama (Jury of One) is filled with all-too-human characters who speak to the struggles all of us face in the age-old battle between right and wrong, justice and injustice.” Truly a page-turner.
Lynn Seldon (seldonink.com): Half of a travel-writer team with his wife Cele (Seldon Ink), who have published 100 Things to Do in Savannah Before You Die and 100 Things to Do in Charleston Before You Die. The second in his “ring series” of novels, Carolina’s Ring, published in March, is a coming-of-age story traversing Virginia Military Institute, Citadel, the Global War on Terrorism, and beyond.
Rebecca Dwight Bruff (rebeccabruff.com): Author of the award-winning debut novel, Trouble the Water (2020), inspired by the real-life story of Robert Smalls, who escaped slavery to become an American hero. Beautifully told from his first-person viewpoint, the book captures Smalls’ courage, heroism, and legacy, and the ugly truth of the era’s enslavement.
Donna Keel Armer (donnaarmer.com): Debut author whose Solo in Salento: A Memoir(2020) “begins with a lie.” Whether Italy has already captured your heart or you’re but an armchair fan, Donna imparts her love of its mystery, magic, music, martyrs, and marvelous food,in take-you-there prose on her courageous journey of personal growth.
Kim Poovey (kimpoovey.com): Author and Victorian reenactress. Her most recent novel, Shadows of the Moss, tells in lilting language the spellbinding story of a mid-19th century Irish immigrant’s journey to America, where she must flee from abuse to follow her own spirit. Contains spot-on history of the Underground Railroad.
Others include John McIlroy, a new short story collection, Whatever Happens, Probably Will; and novelists M.Z. Thwaite (aka Martha Weeks) the Tidewater series set on the Georgia coast; Ellen Malphrus (ellenmalphrus.com); Stephanie Austin Edwards (stephanieaustinedwards.com); and Estelle Ford-Williamson (estelleford-williamson.com).
Children’s book writers include award-winning Susan Diamond Riley (susandiamondriley.com) the Delta and Jax Mystery Series; Susan Montanari (susanmontanari.com) Goldilocks for Dinner: A Funny Book about Manners; Mary T. Jacobs, the Big Daddy Series; and Donna and Michael Chapman, The Adventures of Harriet the Sausage Dog.
Numerous poets that also find inspiration in the Lowcountry include Jacquelyn Markham (jacquelynmarkham.com) the just–released Rainbow Warrior; Lola Campbell, Writing on the Wall; Barry Dickson (barry-dickson.com), Maybe Today; Elizabeth Robin (elizabethrobin.com), To My Dreamcatcher; and poet and translator Miho Kinnas.
Writers from beginners to those whose names are household words, continue to experience Pat’s legendary generosity to all writers through the Pat Conroy Literary Center (PCLC) in Beaufort in its lovely home on Bladen Street. Under the guidance of Jonathan Haupt, the center’s remarkable Executive Director and founder of the Pay Conroy Literary Festival, the PCLC “nurtures a diverse community of writers, readers, teachers, and students by offering educational programs and special events that celebrate the transformative power of story.”
More happenings at this busy community treasure include a biannual Writer’s Residencyon the beautiful marshes of St. Helena Island, an annual March Forth at Penn Center,summertime Camp Conroy, genre writing workshops, book launches and discussions, author signings, monthly Open Mics, and a Pat Conroy Book Club that features the great writer’s books.
First-time author, Nancy Ritter, whose novel Slack Tide launched at a well-attended signing at the center mid-March, expressed heartfelt gratitude to Haupt at the event for help in guiding her novel from idea to reality. A fine example of Conroy’s legacy in action.
Another quote from the late master writer: “When I started out as a kid in Beaufort who wanted to be a writer I didn’t have the slightest notion how to become one…. My home state has given me a million stories and no writer who ever lived had such riches to choose from. What I owe South Carolina is not repayable.”
Oh, but it seems he’s doing a pretty darn good job so far! Freshen up the stack on your nightstand with a few of the above-mentioned books by the Lowcountry’s writers, and make sure you add one or two of Conroy’s.