Our friends from Open Road Media spend a lot of time with their authors on location gathering video, photos, and anecdotes that connect the author and their work with you, the reader.
What follows is a really cool look at Open Road -- on the road -- with Pat Conroy.
So, without further ado, let me turn the mic (if you will) over to Laura De Silva from Open Road:
Scanners and camera equipment in hand, we stepped onto the tarmac at the Charlotte airport. Immediately, we were enveloped in a syrupy heat—a signature of the southern climate that Pat Conroy so perfectly captures in his bestselling novels like The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini.
The sweat was inevitable: New York office attire didn’t exactly jibe with the low country weather we’d be experiencing this week. As Conroy’s epublisher releasing four of his titles this August, Open Road Media had the honor of traveling down to South Carolina to film the author and collect documents and photographs from throughout his life. What exactly do you wear to do that?
We ran to our rental car and cranked the air conditioning full-blast in an effort to keep the heat at bay. Us silly New Yorkers, right? Nothing can really keep out that heat—or the swelling tide of Southern kindness and generosity we were about to encounter. Whether it was directions to the local shrimp shack; a behind-the-scenes, on-camera tour of his alma mater, the Citadel; or unprecedented access to his personal archive of photos and correspondence; Pat Conroy gave us a whirlwind education about his life as a Southern writer without missing a beat as a host.
Over the course of the next several days, our team filmed hours of interviews with Conroy and his friends. We shot footage at his home on Fripp Island, at the Citadel, and around Beaufort, South Carolina. Throughout, he was candid and articulate—opening up outside the pages of his books with a level of honesty rare among writers of his caliber. It’s well known that Conroy draws many of his most incredible bits of fiction from his own life story, and he shared with us many tales from childhood that inspired and influenced his novels. If you have read Conroy’s work, you can imagine how chilling it is to hear him tell some of the real-life stories behind it. One account about a trip to the emergency room when he was a teen became part of his author profile video.
During filming, Conroy and his wife, novelist Cassandra King, graciously opened up their library to us. Aside from shelves of beautiful, important books, it contains dozens of scrapbooks compiled by Conroy’s father that record the author’s life since birth. From childhood photos from the 1950s to school report cards and newspaper clippings to fan letters and family correspondence, Conroy’s life became—quite literally—an open book. We unearthed photographs that hadn’t been seen in decades, including items that have never before been viewed by a person outside of the Conroy family. All told, our team scanned and photographed more than 300 images and documents to incorporate into the illustrated biography featured at the end of his ebooks and to share with fans.
On our last day in South Carolina, Conroy had a treat for us: he made lunch. And not just anything—he made us shrimp salad, sourcing local seafood and offering up the best of his region and personal tastes. It reminded me of Tom Wingo and his surprise gourmet cooking in The Prince of Tides. Conroy’s predilection for the kitchen is one of a million personal quirks drawn from life that he deftly weaves into a character or plot. Inextricably linked to his fiction, Conroy’s own story is a poignant epic that can seem more than a little elusive. The novels complete the picture.
Months later, we are back in New York City, away from the thick heat of the low country. During our launch of Conroy’s ebooks—these celebrated, beloved works with legions of devoted fans that always make me so proud to work on such novels—I keep thinking back to how honored I was to spend some time in South Carolina and discover a bit about the man behind the novels. For me, one of the many pleasant discoveries of our trip was that this son of a fighter pilot, graduate of the Citadel, and bestselling author makes a mean cold shrimp salad. Because everyone knows that a bright, cold shrimp salad is the best thing to combat that syrupy southern heat—even if you are still in your New York office attire.
Check out this special collection: Pat Conroy: The Early Years
Conroy in 1947, at the age of two.
Conroy and his father, Don, examining the day’s catch in front of their Virginia home in 1948.
A Conroy family photo on Easter Day, 1959. Eldest child Pat is in the back row on the far right.
Conroy served as a freshman class officer at Sacred Heart Academy in Belmont, North Carolina, in 1959. Here, he is pictured second from left with the other class officers.
A report card from the first semester of Pat Conroy’s ninth grade year at Sacred Heart Academy.
A Conroy family photo from around 1960. Pat is seated on the far right, next to his parents and siblings.