I first read Pat Conroy in my high school English class when I was 16. We read The Prince of Tides, and it completely changed my life. Anyone who knows me knows my deep and great love for Pat Conroy. There truly is something for everyone in his books, and if you read Pat Conroy, you will, in some way, see a reflection of yourself in the vibrant characters he brought to life on paper. I love his floral vocabulary, descriptive imagery, writing style, and how Pat painted the most realistic and intricate depiction of the South. He knew the South Carolina that I had grown up in, even though we grew up 50 years apart. Although he wrote about the South of his youth, I had seen the same things and felt similar ways. I thought being a Southerner was a shame, but I held on to Pat’s words and devoured his entire collection of work.
I tried to run from South Carolina. I moved to Los Angeles to study Fine Art, and I brought Pat Conroy with me. Despite my attempt to reinvent myself and reject the place I grew up (doesn’t everyone do this in their late teens-early 20’s?), I realized the landscape of South Carolina haunted me. I couldn’t get rid of the creek water and red clay within me. It was difficult to be away from the fallen oaks, the tall golden grass of gentle pastures, medicine bottles buried underbrush, cracked cast iron bathtubs full of pirouetting mosquito larvae, and the abandoned textile mills whose smokestacks and water towers pepper the skyline. My ache for South Carolina came out in everything I did and the art I made/make. I kept going back to Pat’s books, reading them as I maneuvered life in new places, through college and life after college, through loss, hardship, and love. I realized I longed to get back to sweet South Carolina and when I really couldn’t bear it, I would (and still do) settle into one of Pat’s books. Pat’s words always bring me home.
His books continue to remind me why I love the landscape, people, and magic of South Carolina. I was born knowing the beauty and enchantment that South Carolina exudes and how it reveals itself when the white dogwood blushes crimson in the spring and when thunderstorms break in the asphyxiating summer dusk. The magic shows itself in the deep shadows of winter, lurking behind skeletal trees and under rotting autumn leaves. It swirls in the liquid peach tides of the South Carolina sea at which I have spent almost every summer of my life, in the marsh grass and late nights on the pier dancing to cover bands with sea spray in the wind. The exquisiteness of South Carolina speaks to me and so many others through Pat’s writing. You don’t have to grow up in or have been to the South to know and feel the things that Pat rendered with his words and heart.
It’s been almost 10 years since I first read The Prince of Tides, and I will never get over the beauty and truth that Pat breathed into the pages of his books. I wish I could have met him before he was gone. I was devastated when he passed because I felt like I knew him, and I had come to truly love him as all of his readers do. Pat’s work left a legacy. As his readers, we have inherited a love of romantic language, humor, tomfoolery, complex people, and the delight of finding great writing in unexpected places. Thank you, Pat, for your words. I am only 25, but you continue to change the way I see, love, create, and of course, read.