I never meet Pat Conroy. I’m sure that given the number of book festivals and signings that I’ve followed, there was plenty of opportunity. The truth is, I assumed I had more time. Pat Conroy was only 70 when he passed away in 2016, which means that the literary world could have expected at least another novel or two from the man who was (since Harper Lee’s passing) the most famous Southern writer alive.
Our Prince of Scribes is a collection of tributes written by those whose lives intersected with Pat’s. The brief essays are arranged in chronological order by Conroy’s canon – those who knew him from the earliest parts of his career first, to those whose paths crossed later in his life near the end. Barbra Streisand provides the forward; his beloved wife, Cassandra, the afterward.
These brief personal accounts pay perfect homage. Patti Callahan Henry aptly begins her piece, “Sometimes we ask words to bear the burdens that only our hearts can carry.” In this collection, more than 60 friends, family members, former students, fellow writers and other artists offer an attempt to express the burdens their hearts are carrying.
One of my first impressions from the collection is that Pat was one of those remarkable people who, regardless of what else he had going on, when he spoke to you, he made you feel like the most important person in the room. Several of the authors note being personally invited or brought along to significant events (think, family weddings) when they had only just met Pat.
Among the contributors are authors of some of my most beloved books – Terry Kay, Rick Bragg, Ron Rash and Patti Henry. Michael O’Keefe – the actor who played Conroy’s alter ego, Ben Meecham, in the movie adaptation of The Great Santini – provided one of my favorite essays. He talks about meeting Pat for the first time and how much the opportunity to play this part did for him professionally and personally. O’Keefe was raised by his own Santini, so their connection was deep and real.
As a reader we know much about Conroy because he made his own life the topic of many of his beloved books. But in Our Prince of Scribes those in his inner circle round out the edges, they fill in the gaps, giving us an even clearer picture of who Pat Conroy it was. And while I never met the legend, these writings give insight to the man.
Terry Kay sums up a common theme among the essays – especially among the many writers Conroy mentored – like this: “If someone has faith in you, you have an obligation to try.” Conroy inspired many writers to try.
I imagine if I had met Conroy, and if I had gathered the gumption to tell him of my writing aspirations, he would have given me the advice he gave so many others – “You need to write – the world needs to hear more of your voice.”
Writers, readers, and anyone who loves the South will find friends among these pages. But if you love Pat – and if you’ve been touched by his words as I have – this collection is a must read.
I was provided a complimentary copy of Our Prince of Scribes by the University of Georgia Press in exchange for a fair review. Proceeds from the book go to support the Pat Conroy Literary Center and the Friends of Story River Books.
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