FLORENCE---Renowned author Pat Conroy will be the featured speaker at May’s commencement at Francis Marion University.
FMU’s commencement exercises are scheduled at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 8, in Smith University Center. More than 300 students are candidates for degrees.
Conroy also will be the featured speaker at the annual meeting of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, May 7, at the Florence Civic Center.
Conroy’s lyric gifts, abundant good humor and compelling storytelling are well known to readers of his books. Author of several best-seller books that have been made into popular movies, Conroy is also able to weave a story in front of an audience as well as on paper. Audiences have enjoyed stories about his mother, his hardened father, his love of literature and of the South.
Born in 1945 in Atlanta, Ga., to a young career military officer from Chicago and a Southern beauty from Alabama (whom he credits for his love of language), Conroy was the first of seven children. The family moved many times to different military bases around the South.
Conroy attended The Citadel, upon his father’s insistence. While still a student, he wrote and then published his first book, The Boo, a tribute to a beloved teacher.
After graduation, Conroy taught English in Beaufort, where he met and married a young woman with two children, a widow of a Vietnam War soldier. He then accepted a job teaching underprivileged children in a one-room schoolhouse on Daufuskie Island, a remote island off the South Carolina shore.
After a year, Conroy was fired for his unconventional teaching practices—such as his unwillingness to allow corporal punishment of his students—and for his general lack of respect for the school’s administration. Conroy evened the score when he exposed the racism and appalling conditions his students endured with publication of The Water is Wide in 1972. The book won Conroy a humanitarian award from the National Education Association and was made into the feature film Conrack, starring Jon Voight.
Following the birth of a daughter, the Conroys moved to Atlanta, where Pat wrote his first novel, The Great Santini, published in 1976. This autobiographical work, later made into a powerful film starring Robert Duvall, explored the conflicts of his childhood, particularly his confusion over his love and loyalty to an abusive and often dangerous father.
The publication of a book that so painfully exposed his family’s secret brought Conroy to a period of tremendous personal desolation. This crisis resulted in not only his own divorce, but the divorce of his parents. His mother presented a copy of The Great Santini to the judge as evidence in divorce proceedings against his father.
The Citadel became the subject of his next novel, The Lords of Discipline, pubished in 1980. The novel exposed the school’s harsh military discipline, racism and sexism. This book, too, was made into a film.
Conroy remarried and moved from Atlanta to Rome where he began The Prince of Tides, which, when published in 1986, became his most successful book. Reviewers immediately acknowledged Conroy as a master storyteller and a poetic and gifted prose stylist. This novel became one of the most beloved novels of modern time. With more than five million copies in print, it has earned Conroy an international reputation. The Prince of Tides was made into a highly successful feature film directed by Barbra Streisand, who also starred in the film opposite Nick Nolte, whose brillant performance won him an Oscar nomination.
Beach Music, Conroy’s sixth book and his first novel since The Prince of Tides, tells the story of 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, then reaches back into the Vietnam War and the horrors of the Holocaust.
Conroy now divides his time between San Francisco and South Carolina.
Conroy is a cousin of FMU’s men’s head basketball coach Ed Conroy.