Conroy Advises Cadets to Read to Remember
Pat Conroy addresses cadets Feb. 27. -- VMI Photo by Sarah Brown.
LEXINGTON, Va., March 1, 2012 – Author Pat Conroy entertained cadets and
the post community Monday with stories of his family and cadetship – stories that form the rich pool of memories that fueled a lifetime of novel writing.
A graduate of the Citadel, Conroy stepped onto common ground with the VMI cadets he addressed in Gillis Theater almost right away, noting that he had heard many generals talk, but couldn’t remember a thing they’d said.
“I plan for you folks to remember me, and remember me well,” he said. “This is one of the great honors of my life,” he added, pointing to a sentiment he expressed again during a roundtable discussion later in the day with selected cadets and faculty.
He went on to tell stories of his time at the Citadel – of the cadre, “They ate me alive, the first day” – and as a child – of his father who progressed from the car to the house after work and happy hour, “killing small turtles and animals” along the way.
Cadet Frederick Dawson came to the talk and round table well prepared, having read three of Conroy’s books and seen the film adaptations of The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, and The Prince of Tides.
“From reading his memoirs and novels, I always imagined Mr. Conroy as a good, honest man,” said Dawson, “but I found his gleeful, humorous charisma delightfully refreshing.”
Conroy’s stories, of visiting VMI as a Citadel athlete, of his mother – “so beautiful, so fragile,” of the brother who committed suicide and the pain of his father that reunited his family, of the Citadel classmate who survived being a POW in Vietnam while Conroy remained at home protesting the war, moved his audience to sadness and to laughter over and over again. This “stuff” of his novels fascinated the readers in his audience, like Dawson, who had the opportunity during the round table to ask Conroy questions directly.
“My questions for Mr. Conroy were about his relationships with his family members before and post-writing career and how a person wrestles with writing such emotionally charged, personal novels,” said Dawson.
Conroy explained, in answer to Dawson’s question, how his own understanding of his mother’s character had evolved as he matured from child to young adult to mature adult, watching his parents’ “horrible” divorce.
Another cadet question elicited Conroy’s sole piece of advice to would-be young writers: read.
“I read and was transported,” said Conroy. “Here’s the thing about reading, and here’s the thing about writing. Writing to me is my greatest passion. I love doing it. I love describing things. I love making things come alive.”
But to make things come alive, the writer must remember the details. Looking back at his time at the Citadel, when he was a rare reading cadet, he said, “My curse was I remembered everything, every single thing that happened to me.”
Conroy’s visit to VMI was sponsored by the H.B. Johnson, Jr. ’26 fund as part of VMI’s Distinguished Lecture Series.