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Novelist Pat Conroy


High-drama Southern novelist Pat Conroy has been breaking sales records and breaking hearts for decades with his passionate prose out of the Carolina low country.

With blockbusters gone to film — “The Prince of Tides,” “The Great Santini,” and more — Conroy has won a readership of millions. He aims straight for the emotional heart of every story. The Washington Post calls him “the Prince of Tears.”

Now, after a 14-year break, he’s out with a new novel, set in Charleston: “South of Broad.”

This hour, On Point: A conversation with novelist Pat Conroy.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Pat Conroy joins us from Birmingham, Alabama. He’s the author of the novels “The Great Santini,” “The Lords of Discipline,” “The Prince of Tides,” and others. His new novel is “South of Broad.” You can read excerpts at RandomHouse.com.

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  • peter patten

    Im a casual reader of Pat, not an expert, but you seem like such a whiner and crybaby about everything be it family, college, basketball team. Did you ever consider “Hey, That’s Life”. The same life everyone has to one degree or other.

  • http://fromSt.HelenaIsland,SC,justdowntheroadfromConroy Brendagael Beasley-Forrest

    Pat Conroy’s sharing of his life through his eloquent writing has meant so much to me. So many of us are in a lifetime of healing from a painful childhood, whether it be from not getting enough love or attention from our parents, or for the bullying we’ve endured from our peers. One of the most telling quotes I’ve read on this topic is from Beach Music, which explains so much:

    “When you have been hurt you lose your trust in the world. If the world’s mean to you when you’re a child, you spend the rest of your life being mean back.”

  • denise wallace

    I was delighted to hear your comments on being Catholic. I too ws raised Catholic and I refer to my self as “Culturally Catholic”. There are not too many people who understand this description.

    Thanks for putting it so well.

  • Mari McAvenia

    Pat Conroy writes with the force of the truth, at first restrained, then finally released.

    American lives tend not to be what they look like on the outside. He points to this traditional duality with empathy and courage.

    When watching “The Great Santini” for the first time, with a few siblings, we all agreed that “Bull” strongly resembled our father, “the old man”, as we’ve always referred to him.

    The old man was a small town cop who couldn’t get into the military as his 2 elder brothers had, where they both achieved fairly high ranks. Always a frustrated commando, he used his 6 kids as training dummies for such military sports as target practice and hand-to-hand combat.

    The secrets of family brutality are tough to contain over the passage of many decades. Like Mr. Conroy, I’m the writer in my own large family. The relatives are all scared witless that I shall shine a light into the old closet of shame some day. Perhaps I will. Perhaps I will not. It makes for awkward family gatherings.

    Thanks for creating the characters, Mr. Conroy. They sure do tell some fine, rich stories for you. Memorable and enduring folks, all of them.

  • Brendagael Beasley-Forrest

    I’m a Lowcountry transplant, who lives just a few miles away from Mr. Conroy, in St. Helena, and work as Catalog Librarian in Beaufort, SC, where some of Conroy’s works are set.

    Mr. Conroy has a love/hate relationship with the South. He is brutally honest about the South’s insular closed-mindedness and how appearances and family lineage can be everything to a Southerner. Some Conroy quotes from Beach Music:


    To Lucy, the whole coastline of SC was a love letter written by God as a literal translation of his abundant love for the beachcombers of the world.

    Being Southern or Northern is part of who we are; and if we hate that part of us too much, we hate ourselves, and in hating ourselves, we cannot attract love and goodness that comes so easily to those that do.

    The water felt warm and silken and Leah’s hair glistened like a seal’s as she dove off my shoulders and rode the huge breaking waves all the way to shore. I said little but took comfort and undiminishable pleasure in the physicality of swimming, the pull of the tide, the swell and rocking of the ocean itself. Leah had learned to swim like an otter, throw a shrimp net as well as I could, and could already slalom behind a ski boat. She was becoming a low country girl and I held her close to me as we rested in the surf twenty yards from shore.


    I needed a rest from the South, I said finally. I find it exhausting to think about and overstimulating to live in and maddening to try to analyze.

    How lucky I was to have been raised by Southern parents who not only were not racists, but who worked with uncommon zeal to ensure that we were uninfected by the South’s virulent portable virus. Our parents represented something very fine and dangerous at a time when Southern whites stood shoulder to shoulder to demonstrate their attention to ideas both insupportable and un-American. That night in Reese County ten men in masks came for Tony Calabrese, and though he struggled, they beat him half to death with fists and ax handles. They burnt his car and his house and they drove him to the state line of New Jersey, where they dumped him bound up in an oyster sack and blind in one eye. The ten men who assaulted Calabrese were never caught but were well known among their fellow citizens, who believed in their hearts that Calabrese had received a well-deserved civics lesson in the Southern way of doing things.

    “I’ve never liked people who can’t speak English,” John Hardin said. “I always think they’ve got something to hide.” “How ridiculous,” I said. “How Southern.”

    He’s a Jeter, Lucy said. His people are nothing but trash. Mother, please, I said. I’m just stating the facts, she said. The whole family’s got dirty fingernails. It runs with ‘em like freckles. Daddy doesn’t like people to put labels on other people grandma, Leah explained. He doesn’t? You can call a loggerhead a 2-headed chicken but that don’t make it so. Same as a Jeter. You can dress that boy up in a tux, teach him the manners of a queen, and you still ain’t got no Huguenot. Call a Jeter Rockefeller and you still got a Jeter striding up your backyard, right Jack? Shut up, Mama, I said. I’m trying to raise Leah to think differently. Lucy laughed and said, “Too bad, son. You brought her South. That’s the way the South thinks and she might as well get used to local custom.”

  • JOHN oleary

    …the raging father …i am reminded of the frank mccourt absent father …
    because he could only rage at his family ..
    this weekend i saw a lot of young couples with babies…and i wonder how the new dads are doing …there is almost no support for men in such circumstances .

    great show

  • Kathleen

    I was raised a Catholic, although I no longer practice and now consider myself an atheist. I agree with Mr. Conroy…they got me. I refer to myself as I “recovering catholic”. As with alcoholism…it never
    really goes away

  • Anne

    I miss the Sout-of-Broad Charleston of my childhood. It was shabby but real. There was a saying about Charlestonians–”Too poor to paint, too proud to whitewash.” Hence the historic gems of buildings stood till new money could come in to renovate. Now it looks like Disneyland.

  • Allen

    Two of my very favorite books in the world are Mr. Conroy’s non-fiction books – The Water Is Wide and My Losing Season. As soon as i finished the last page of each, I was ready to start all over again. Other then Thomas Wolfe, I’ve never read anything else where the words just wash over the reader the way Mr. Conroy’s do. Any plans for more non-fiction in the future?

  • Brenda, Toronto CA

    II was raised in a large irish catholic family with a ferocious father and am still trying to make peace with my father’s beatings and all of those things once thought to be normal and every day upsets. Mr. Conroy’s novels come alive for me in a very personal way. Thank you Mr. Conroy for sharing narratives that are are so-true for so-many. Tom, as always, the best in the business.

  • http://www.npr.org Susan

    Thank you, Pat Conroy. Not only do you write like butter, you touch my core with your stories. I think I would read your books no matter what the theme/subject, fiction/non-fiction because your words carry me along just as if they were parts of a fine piece of classical music. Having said that, I too was raised in an Orthodox Catholic church in NYC. I am now a “very far left Agnostic” – not quite an atheist [out loud] because I’m uncomfortable with the declarations inherent in atheism. My family life too was full of parental cruelty (mental and physical) and secrets held tight only to be allowed out or found out in middle age years. There is no way one can leave all of that behind – it’s, in part, who [we] are and we learn to wear it all, the good and the bad. Your writing reduces the acute sense of isolation one cannot help but feel by those of us with dramatically cruel family histories. I have to say: in a way, I envy “Peter” (posted above) who can only interpret Mr Conroy’s disclosures of a very difficult family life as “a whiner and a crybaby..” – he knows nothing. And he’s not the better person for it.

  • Ann

    Mr. Conroy came to RI School of Design to speak a number of years ago(I believe one of his children attended the school.) I was SO excited about hearing him. He was SUCH a GENEROUS speaker — just as he was today!! And, I’m so happy others have said it…. Tom is just THE BEST!!!

    What I wanted to ADD was this: Pat Conroy is a terrific LANDSCAPE writer — like one might be a fantastic landscape painter. MOST of the discussion was about what a terrific portraitist he is, but, for me, his portraits of the landscape are luscious, sensuous, and made thru gorgeous language that uses the sounds and rhythms of language with exquisite sensibility!!! John Casey does this, too, in Spartina; Thomas Hardy does it in his short stories (maybe in his novels, but I haven’t tried them). I have little patience for descriptive writing unless the language is, itself, PART and PARCEL with that portrayed, and that is EXACTLY how Mr. Conroy writes his landscapes!

  • john kassel

    I listened to your program with Pat Conroy and was somewhat disappointed that the conversation never focused on a central theme in his writing: violence. The belligerent father in The Great Santini, the hazing in Lords of Discipline, the family violated in the Prince of Tides, the Holocaust in Beach Music, and now South of Broad. I would have been interested to hear Conroy speak to this issue that seems to dominate his prose.

  • http://www.scguide.org Scott Thompson

    We love and hate Pat Conroy in the South in the same way you love a close family member. He exposes our weaknesses and makes us face them while at the same time telling us why he loves us. As the South evolves he’s studied the changes and wrote about them.

  • Margie Tripplette

    My introduction to Pat Conroy was “South of Broad,” and I was immediately captivated and drawn into the narrative and strong interesting characters. It was refreshing to read each character and to understand the different nuances being developed. The book made you stop and think about your own upbringing and family relationships. My intention is to read all of Pat Conroy’s books.

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