Editor’s Note: Last month, legendary author Pat Conroy passed away. Below, writer Mary Alice Monroe, a longtime friend and admirer of his work, writes about how his writing influenced her own.
“My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.”
These words made me swoon when I was in my thirties and first read Pat Conroy’s novel THE PRINCE OF TIDES. My love for his writing grew with each book of his that I read. I caressed the pages, pouring over his words.
Pat Conroy quickly became the king of southern literature, and his body of work paved the way for future southern writers, including myself. I was fortunate to call him my friend.
Pat’s love of South Carolina is vividly portrayed in all his books. But his novel BEACH MUSIC especially speaks to me because in it, he wrote about the early days of South Carolina’s efforts to monitor the loggerhead sea turtle population nesting on our beaches. I’m a member of my local turtle team, something that has become a lifelong devotion for me (and is the source of inspiration for my nationally bestselling The Beach House series).
In BEACH MUSIC, the hero’s mother, Lucy, warred with a Department of Natural Resources agent about following guidelines. Pat liked his characters to challenge authority and, oh, how we turtle volunteers both loved Lucy and were frustrated by her mistakes. He touched a chord in me as he described a young man’s love of all things wild in the land, sea, and sky; the joy and the dark side of growing up and falling in love in the South during a tumultuous time of change. And, too, how to make peace with the past while working to build a better future. To remain true to the core of one’s beliefs.
I don’t compare myself to Pat Conroy—no author should try. But we shared a love of the landscape in the low-lying coastal area of South Carolina that we call the Lowcountry. We found a common ground as warriors to protect the sultry, winding creeks and rivers, the majestic, mercurial Atlantic Ocean, and all the imperiled wildlife that inhabit this watery region—sea turtles, dolphins, shore birds, fish, and shellfish.
I serve on the board of the South Carolina Aquarium and was giving out awards at the inaugural Conservation Gala. That year, we had the privilege of giving the new Legacy Award to Pat Conroy, who’d served on the aquarium’s first board and whose words had inspired countless people around the world to discover the unparalleled beauty of the Lowcountry, and, in particular, the marine life.
I will miss my many interactions with this larger-than-life man—his sharp wit and keen observations. But he leaves this world in a better, richer place with his books, which will be respected and cherished by generations to come. I am forever indebted to and appreciative of the life and work of this literary groundbreaker. Pat Conroy is the one and only Prince of Tides.