Conroy would have been proud of literary center

in Community by

By Kat Walsh

It is a simple, white-sided house in the heart of downtown Beaufort. The Spanish moss drips from the trees in front of the double porches. It is a quintessential Lowcountry home, one that could have come straight out of a Pat Conroy novel.

This home, though, is slowly becoming a living memorial to honor the Prince of Words himself.

When beloved Southern writer Conroy died earlier this year, ideas for memorials began flowing. Traditional memorials, such as statues and plaques, just didn’t feel right to honor Conroy, said his wife, Cassandra King.

Conroy’s agent, Marly Rusoff, suggested another idea: a living legacy of sorts, a center that fosters the craft of writing, just as Conroy did.

“Pat was so much about helping other writers and encouraging them.  He was the best one I’ve ever seen at doing that,” said King.

Rusoff and King decided to use Rusoff’s own literary mecca, The Loft, in Minneapolis to model the center after.

The idea is simple, a center that promotes and celebrates the art of writing.  “We really got excited about the prospect of doing something more meaningful,” King said of the memorial. A site was found and King said they fell in love with the old house. She notes it is not a grand home, but a very typical Lowcountry home.

Conroy was as passionate about helping up-and-coming writers as he was about his own work. He knew how difficult it was to be published as a new author and aimed to help others get started. A few years back, he began working with Jonathan Haupt, director of the University of South Carolina Press. Together, they discovered and published new Southern writers through Story River Books.

“He enjoyed discovering new writers.  A lot of times, he would get so excited about the writer, he would call the writer up to talk about their book and ask them questions,” King said with a laugh. The call would often come as an unexpected shock to the new author.

The plans for the center have been taking shape over the last several months.

“We want to start out on a small scale and bring writers in, offer readings and workshops.  It can be something that a community as a whole at all levels and ages can be involved in,” said King.

The center will be used for everything from summer writing camps for kids to classes for senior citizens to learn to write their own memoir and everything in between.

King is hopeful plans for a January opening will be possible.  The center’s first event, however, will be during the inaugural Pat Conroy Literary Festival in October. The center is not affiliated with the festival this year, but King views the festival as an opportunity to raise awareness of the center.

The Pat Conroy Literary Center, at 308 Charles St., will have an open house and include exhibits of Conroy’s manuscripts and photos, courtesy of the University of South Carolina, which owns all of Conroy’s papers.

King stressed that the center will not be a museum, but a living legacy to promote writing.

“I am most excited about honoring Pat this way, honoring his memory and his legacy in a way that would be meaningful to him,” she said, “and to be able to offer back to the Lowcountry, it would mean a lot to him.”

For more information or to make a donation to the center, visit patconroyliterarycenter.org.

Top photo: The Pat Conroy Literacy Center is housed in this building at 308 Cateret St. in Beaufort.