Pat Conroy was born on October 26, 1945, in Atlanta, Georgia. The
author of several best-selling novels about dysfunctional Southern families,
including The Great Santini (1976) and The Prince of Tides
(1986), he was raised in a household where his father was an abusive Marine
fighter pilot. As mean and ornery as a man can get, he "...would make
John Wayne look like a pansy," according to Conroy, who, along with his
siblings, called his father "Godzilla" for good reason. They
frequently crossed paths with his ire and suffered repeated beatings as a
Conroy's mother, on the other hand, was as mild mannered as
his father was tough. She often read to him from Gone with the
Wind and told him stories about her aristocratic ancestors, even though
she didn't have any. Conroy said, "She was poor white trash who spent
her whole life denying it as bitterly and vehemently as she could...[she]
was really the first fiction writer in the family."
the family moved frequently to different military bases around the South, Conroy
changed schools often, finally ending up at the Citadel Military Academy
in Charleston, South Carolina, at his fatherís insistence. While
there, he wrote and then published his first book, The Boo, about a
beloved teacher. But altogether, he disliked the strict military
lifestyle imposed there, and he once admitted to his mother that school was
worse than living through his father's beatings. Nevertheless,
he stuck it out through graduation.
On his own at last, Conroy at first wanted to join the
Peace Corps. But when a job for an English teacher opened up in Beaufort,
he took it. While there, he met and married a young Vietnam War widow with two children.
When a new teaching position arose, he jumped at the chance to work with underprivileged children in a one-room
schoolhouse on Daufuskie Island, a remote island off the South Carolina
coast. He was shocked to learn that the children there had been
isolated from the mainland for so long that they didn't know they were
Americans, didn't know the letters of the alphabet, and didn't even know
that the world was round.
Instead of using the textbooks provided to him by the local
school board, Conroy decided that his students needed to see the real world.
He took them on a series of field trips to his home town, to a
basketball game, and to Washington D.C. School board administrators
were not amused: they fired him for failing to follow official school
curriculum. In response, he wrote a book about the experience, The
Water Is Wide, which was published in 1972 and went on to win several
awards before being made into the movie, Conrack, starring Jon Voight.
first novel, The Great Santini (1976), was based on his own
childhood, growing up with his father. It was a best-seller that was
turned into a movie starring Robert Duvall as a gung ho Marine pilot ("The
Great Santini"), Michael O'Keefe as his eldest son, and Blythe Danner as the
mother. The film centers on the love and conflict that the
sons--particularly the eldest--have with their father. The expectation by
Duvall is that his son will one day follow in his footsteps, but the
differences in their personalities soon grow evident, and the father/son
relationship is strained to the point of rupture.
Both Duvall and O'Keefe received Academy Award nominations
for the film (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor).
When the book was published, Conroy's father didn't think much of it.
He threw it across the room when he was halfway through it. But he
softened toward the story considerably after seeing the movie, and he began
signing copies of his son's novel as "the Great Santini."
several years of intense personal conflict spurred on by the revelations in
the book (his mother used it as evidence in a messy divorce proceeding from
Conroy and his first wife divorced, and he remarried shortly after.
The newlyweds moved to Rome where the author began a new novel called The
Prince of Tides which, when published in 1986, became his most
successful book. Reviewers lauded him as a master storyteller and a
gifted stylist. The book was made into a film starring Barbara
Streisand and Nick Nolte. Nolte's performance led to an Oscar
most recent book, My Losing Season (2002), is the story of his
basketball days at the Citadel. It's a reconstruction of the author's
senior year, his last year as an athlete, and the 21 basketball games that
changed his life. Although the season was a failure from a sporting
point of view, it was a great character builder. The book is filled
with Conroy's recollections, as well as flashbacks of his childhood and
insights into his early aspirations as a writer. It's the first
nonfiction book he wrote in 30 years.
Pat Conroy once said, "One of the greatest gifts you can
get as a writer is to be born into an unhappy family."
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