ATLANTA | Pat Conroy has done more to put South Carolina on the map than almost any modern writer, but he's just getting started.
The best-selling author of five novels, all set in the Palmetto State, including ”The Great Santini” and ”The Prince of Tides,” wants to see other South Carolinians get their due.
His new job will help in that goal. He has become the editor-at-large for a new imprint from the University of South Carolina Press called Story River Books.
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Named for a small river which marks the northern border of Fripp Island, where Conroy keeps one of his homes with wife and novelist Cassandra King, Story River Books is intended to highlight South Carolinians writing works set mostly in their home state.
The first volume in the Story River Books series will be ”A Southern Girl: A Novel,” by John Warley, to be released in May 2014.
A military brat and the son of a Marine fighter pilot, Conroy moved to Beaufort as a teenager and has lived in South Carolina much of his life, not including short periods of residence in Rome, Italy, and Atlanta.
He recently moved to Beaufort from Fripp Island, ”to be closer to the doctors.” In a conversation from his home there, the 67-year-old writer talked about his goal in becoming an editor.
Q: What will this new job do to your writing time?
A: It will cut into it, but that happens. I've got a new book coming out in November and another one started, so I'm on a steady roll.
Q: You want to help South Carolina writers reach a national audience?
A: That was the original idea. But I'm really worried about the midlist writers in America. … They can't get published anymore. The publishers have all become big conglomerates and they're looking for the next blockbuster. Everything else they're dissatisfied with. There's not a writer you can talk to who doesn't think publishing is dead. … So I want to help the midlist writers and I'm going to try to get some experience by putting out these South Carolina writers.
Also I will be the final judge of the South Carolina high school writer's competition.
Q: Why do you want to do that?
A: I was a kid living in South Carolina, a kid who wanted to be a writer, and I didn't have an idea how to go about it. Now I know.
Q: Has South Carolina forgiven you? (Conroy was persona non grata at his alma mater, The Citadel, after his 1980 novel ”The Lords of Discipline” portrayed the South Carolina military school in an unflattering light. The grudge ended in 2001 when the school gave him a parade and an honorary doctorate.)
A: I used to be what passes for a Communist in South Carolina, but since I've aged, I have wizened into an avuncular figure and an object of humor. They seem to have accepted me.
Q: Your memoir, ”The Death of Santini,” is coming out in the fall. Does it sort of lift the veil on the real Santini, your father?
A: ”The Death of Santini” is Dad's second act. It's about what happened when I wrote the book, which is: Everybody went crazy.
Q: Is there a little reconciliation in there?
A: There's probably a little of that. … You know it's hard to maintain that rage as you get older. On the other hand, he was mean as a snake.