The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides
December 12, 2002
4:15 p.m. Seminar, Standish Room
8:00 p.m. Reading
UAlbany, Downtown Campus
(photo credit: Judy Axenson)
Best-selling author Pat Conroy is well known for using some bitter personal experiences as the basis for his work, which explores the jarring tensions, ironies, and humor of love-hate relationships in the contemporary South. Conroy's newest book, My Losing Season (October 2002), is a nonfiction account of Conroy's senior year on the basketball team at the Citadel, the South's famous bastion of military tradition. "There was a time in my life," Conroy writes at the beginning of the book, "when I walked through the world known to myself and others as an athlete. . .athletics provided the single outlet for a repressed and preternaturally shy boy to express himself in public."
The book explores the experience of being part of a team, particularly a losing team, as well as the meaning of friendship and the broader life lessons that may be learned on the ball court. Conroy views his final year of basketball as a turning point that ultimately set him on the road to be a writer.
As he did in much of his fiction, particularly in The Great Santini (1976), Conroy also continues to explore his relationship with his abusive father. The new book contains new revelations about their father-son relationship. Conroy completed My Losing Season just before his father's death from cancer and read it to him at his bedside. "My father said, 'I should have beaten you more, son'" Conroy relates, "I said, 'Dad, if you had beaten me much more, I'd be Shakespeare.'"
Conroy's first book to receive national attention, The Water is Wide (1972) was an account of his experience teaching nearly illiterate black children on Daufuskie Island, an isolated area off the coast of South Carolina. He followed The Water is Wide with The Great Santini (1976), an autobiographical novel in which the title character is based on his tough Marine aviator father. The novel was adapted for film by Warner Brothers in 1979 starring Robert Duvall.
The Boo (1970) and the Lords of Discipline (1980) both use South Carolina's military academy The Citadel as the basis of their stories which explore conflicting ideas of manhood, the bonds between men, and the coexistence of love and brutality.
Conroy's two most recent novels The Prince of Tides (1986) and Beach Music (1995) deal with painful experiences--the death of loved ones, parental brutality, injustice, changing friendships, insanity, and suicide. Both books were praised for Conroy's trademark lyrical prose and bitter humor. Ruth Pollack Coughlin praised The Prince of Tides for being "stuffed to the endpages with lyricism, melodrama, anguish and plain old suspense." Publishers Weekly noted that Beach Music sings with the familiar Southern cadences, his prose is sweepingly lyrical." Beach Music (1995), Conroy's sixth book, told the story Jack McCall, an American who moves to Rome to escape the trauma and painful memory of his young wife's suicidal leap off a bridge in South Carolina. The story takes place in South Carolina and Rome, and reaches back in time to the Vietnam War and the horrors of the Holocaust.
In addition to The Great Santini, three other Conroy books have been adapted for film. The Water is Wide was made as Conrack (1974), starring Jon Voight. The Lords of Discipline was released in 1983 and featured David Keith. Barbara Streisand produced, directed and starred in The Prince of Tides in 1991 opposite Nick Nolte, whose brilliant performance won him an Oscar nomination.
Pat Conroy currently lives in Fripp Island, South Carolina with his wife, novelist Cassandra King.