When Pat Conroy died on March 4, 2016, America lost one of her most beloved writers. Conroy’s loss will almost certainly be felt strongest in his native South where he set the standard for Southern writers for the past several decades, but Pat Conroy fans all around the world were equally caught by surprise at how quickly his death followed the announcement that he was beginning treatment for pancreatic cancer.
A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life, a compilation of past blog entries, essays, speeches, and interviews of Conroy’s is the author’s official farewell to his fans – and it is an effective one. Despite how unlikely it is, over time readers often come to believe that their favorite writers would be their friends if only they ever managed to meet them; they feel as if they know them that well from their writing. Pat Conroy fans seem almost universally to have felt that way about him, and as several of the blog entries included in A Lowcountry Heart will make clear, they just may have been right because Conroy as much looked forward to meeting them as they did to meeting him. He was one of those rare authors who actually look forward to the next book promotion tour, and he often blogged about the people he met along the way and how much he enjoyed the experience.
As Conroy put it in an early 2014 blog entry, “It (book tours) is part of the covenant I sign with Doubleday that I’ll do everything possible to help the sell the book, including not getting drunk on tour or embarrassing my publishing company with my cutting-up on the road. I go out to sell books and it has become one of the greatest things about being a writer during my lifetime. No writer should turn down the chance of meeting the readers of his work.”
Pat Conroy was not one ever to forget his friends or the teachers who influenced his life in some positive way. He was loyal to the end, and his friends knew that he would always be there for them. This was especially true for his old school friends and for a handful of schoolteachers who, in the end, became some of the dearest friends he had. Two of those friends, Bernie Schein and Rick Bragg say their goodbyes to Conroy here in separate pieces, Schein’s “Farewell Letter” and a reprint of Bragg’s Southern Living article titled “The Great Conroy: An Homage to a Southern Literary Giant and a Prince of a Guy.” Both pieces are beautifully done.
A Lowcountry Heart represents Pat Conroy well, presenting him in all his frank vulnerability and willingness to share with the rest of us his pain and what life has taught him. Conroy knew that he was in a race against the clock to finish his last novel, but sadly was unable to complete the book before his time ran out. According to editor Nan A. Talese, she has less than two hundred pages of The Storms of Aquarius in her possession – but the search among his journals for more on the new novel continues. Perhaps someday, Pat Conroy fans will receive one final gift from their storytelling friend. We can only hope so.