Pat Conroy: ‘My papers belong here’

In the early 1970s, Pat Conroy took a poetry class with James Dickey at the University of South Carolina.

"I thought he was the greatest poet that ever lived," Conroy says. "He changed my life."

The notebook the budding author used for that class is now back at the university as part of Conroy's archive that will be housed alongside collections of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Conroy's collection includes handwritten manuscripts of his 11 books, family scrapbooks and personal diaries packed with story ideas, poems and musings. Housed in the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library, the archive chronicles the work and life of the writer who has spent his career telling the rich stories of South Carolina and its people.

"There is no state that produces stories like this state," Conroy says. "I did not know when I crossed into South Carolina, I was passing into my literary territory."

His books include "The Great Santini," "The Prince of Tides" and "Beach Music" – all set in South Carolina.

"Pat Conroy, for so many of us, defines everything that is mysterious and beautiful about the Lowcountry. His influence goes beyond South Carolina, but this is where he lives and this is where he writes," says Tom McNally, dean of University Libraries. "This collection, which is one of the premiere archives of one of the most important living writers, had to be here."

The collection comes to Carolina as a gift from Richard and Novelle Smith in memory of Dorothy Brown Smith, a longtime supporter of University Libraries and a fan of Conroy's writing.

"My mother believed in the value of education and the central role the library plays. She enjoyed reading, literature, and especially the writings of Pat Conroy," Richard Smith says. "I know she would be very excited about this opportunity."

A full-time curator has been hired to process the collection of more than 10,000 handwritten pages of his work, as well as screenplays, letters to his parents during his years at The Citadel, 80 family scrapbooks assembled by his father, thousands of family photographs and boxes of letters from writers and fans.

The archive also will include everything Conroy writes for the rest of his life.

"My papers belong here. I wanted them here, I am happy they're here, I am proud that they're here," Conroy says. "And I will try to add to them for the rest of my writing life and that is my pledge to you all."

Some select items are on display at the Hollings Library now with the entire collection expected to be available to researchers in about 18 months, says Elizabeth Sudduth, director of the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Carolina.

"This is our most comprehensive literary archive," Sudduth says. "It is amazing to see Mr. Conroy's hand-written drafts and the early copy-edited, typed versions of his work from his youth through the present. The archive is an incredible treasure for researchers, including our own faculty and students."

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