Salon@615: Pat Conroy
When: 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29
Where: Hume-Fogg Academic High School Auditorium
Acclaimed novelist Pat Conroy will be in Nashville tomorrow to discuss his latest book, a memoir called The Death of Santini, as part of Salon@615's excellent fall lineup.
Ed Tarkington wrote about Conroy for this week's Scene. Read an excerpt of that story below, and look for Salon@615 events featuring Wally Lamb, Amy Tan and Doris Kearns Goodwin in the coming weeks. Advance online tickets for tomorrow's event are no longer available, but a limited number of free tickets will be at Hume-Fogg — get there early.
"I've been writing the story of my own life for over 40 years," admits Pat Conroy in the prologue to his new memoir, The Death of Santini. "My own stormy autobiography has been my theme, my dilemma, my obsession, and the fly-by-night dread I bring to the art of fiction." Though he is beloved as a novelist, Conroy's career began with a well-received memoir: In The Water Is Wide, he writes of his time as the teacher of Gullah children on Daufuskie Island (off the coast of South Carolina) during the early 1970s — and of his dismissal for "unorthodox" teaching practices, including the refusal to administer corporal punishment.
Conroy followed this first success with a novel about his childhood. The Great Santini centers on the mercurial figure of his "Thor-like" father: "Because I had studied the biography of Thomas Wolfe with such meticulous attention, I thought I knew all the pitfalls and fly traps into which I could fall by writing on such an incendiary subject as my own family," Conroy writes in The Death of Santini. But he was unprepared both for the book's massive success and for the degree of hostility with which it would be met by its subjects. "Nice going, Pat," his mother told him. "You stabbed your own family right through the heart." Not long after that, however, the same mother who angrily dismissed her son as "a lousy writer, and a shallow one, too," was reportedly handing his book to a divorce-court judge as evidence. Similarly, the hardened father who had been brought to tears by the unvarnished portrait of his own tyrannical cruelty was proudly showing up at Conroy's readings to sign copies. "When I began to write the book, I had never heard the phrase 'dysfunctional family,' " Conroy explains in the new memoir. "Since the book came out, that phrase has traveled with me as though a wood tick had attached itself to my armpit forever."