tv Book Discussion on Understanding Pat Conroy CSPAN November 1, 2015 12:00am-12:55am EDT
accepting claims on the face, ask for evidence, challenge, ask critical questions about any claim that anyone has command think for yourself. >> host: who is your favorite philosopher? >> guest: if you count him, thomas jefferson, thomas hub. i think the great enlightenment philosophers, voltaire, the people that really opened the doors up. adamup. adam smith, david hume, they started the rational skeptical scientific movement. >> host: a lot of people here like john locke. >> guest: absolutely in the top five. >> host: the moral arc is the name of the book. justice and freedom. here is the cover. michael shermer is the author. >> you're watching book tv on c-span2 with top nonfiction books and authors every weekend. book tv, television for serious readers.
>> tomorrow at noon easter's economist on a williams his life. he will talk about his life and career and answer your questions. his books include his most recent american contempt for liberty, race, economics, and a from the projects. the projects. have a question? e-mail it to book tv at c-span.org, posted to our facebook wall, or tweet us. you can also call in during the program. this month's guest on book tv and depth, economist walter williams. book tv, television for serious readers. >> next on teewun, the 27th annual book festival held every year in nashville. author talks and panel discussions on race in
america, southern culture command much more. first, best-selling author pat conroy in conversation about his life and career. >> welcome to the 27th -- i don't know how to tell you that. is that better? i am closer to it. welcome to the 27th annual southern festival for books. we appreciate your being here so very much command without you it just would not be any fun at all, but it is free to the public, and if you would like to go by and make a donation at the main booth, it is on the
plaza. we would love it, and no donation is too small. we would love to have you come by and visit regardless we will close approximately five minutes to the hour, and pat conroy will be signing along with catherine selzer, signing in the -- on the plaza. and right up there. i think that i have taken care of business, and i am going to read what catherine thought was needful. pat conroy is one of the south's most beloved writers. his books which include the great santini, lordssantini, larger discipline, prince of tides, and most recently the death of santini explore issues of southern identity and focus on a complex family dynamic.
today he chats with catherine selzer, an english professor at southern illinois university edwardsville who has recently published a critical study of conroy's work understanding pat conroy. and -- [laughter] and who is currently working on a biography of conroy. having perused this book, this is the book right here you will be seeing when you are signing or are there to have your book signed, but having perused it, it is a gateway to understanding the complexity and his work. it is just wonderful. i just got it. i thought, wow, what she has
done with the works, helping us better understand this very complex man over here, and now i give you catherine selzer and pat conroy. [applause] >> as i have been researching this book in the next book, it is great to be able to do it today with all of you with the exception of the conversation. start in the little bit of a different direction today. we are in nashville. really kind of inform how we think about it. want to start by asking a couple questions.
even more specifically about that southern sense of place, the chivalrous southern identity. and your work is easily invested. for most of us we knew that south carolina low country, and those of us who have been lucky enough to spend any time there recognize it immediately. but as much as you are -- he moved dozensyou moved dozens of times in your child it is a military brat. atlanta, san francisco, realm, and so you have a complex understanding. i would like to start by asking you.
>> see why it is hard to understand pat conroy? and never quite knew what to say because i think my situation is a sorry one, that the reason i have a sense of places i had been going out. how manyhow many people in here were marine brats or military brats? usually we all feel the same way. if you had anything like the background i did, we, we moved, when my father was dying he pulls out a book and says, hey, son, would you like to no every address you have moved? and i did not know. yes. and we had moved from the time of my birth atlanta 23 times until we get to buford when i was 15 years old.
and so we had just changed schools almost every year. what is most common to me, why i am ridiculously friendly is i knew no one growing up. i would walk into the school i smiled a lot. i looked friendly. i looked overly friendly today. i think it is all part of that not belonging and all and wanting to belong, and by the time when i was 15i was 15 and we came to beaufort, south carolina, my 3rd high school command i was miserable. seven kids. you know about dad. and when we came to buford we crossed the bridge and beaufort county. mymy mother was driving and i was miserable. the kids were miserable.
my sister used to have this routine. she would cry. as she would cry she would catch the tears and the silver spring that she stole from my grandmother. and she would get the tears command as we go into the new town she would throw them at mom or dad. and all of the kids -- i love susie. i miss susie already. carol, my poet sister would look around and say, think of susie is dead. [laughter] susie died,command you will never see or hear from her again. and we are going to a new school and every one that we meet this year will die at the end of next year. and then we will move again.
and i think what you are talking about is, when i got to buford i said, mom, the high school in washington the year before. mom, i never got invited to the dragon boys house, never spent the night, never had a date. never held a girl's hand. never danced with a girl. and you know, mom was the nation needs a fighter pilot son. still, it would be nice to hold a gross hand. even with this. why don't you make buford your home? you know, dad has fought in three wars. you have a right as a marine corps son to choose any city in america is your father has earned it and now our family has earned it. so i chose beaufort, south
carolina. only because it was the 1st place a girl ever held my hand. [laughter] and this port town is now hooked with me. i was not born there, was there, was not raised there, but it has gotten to be such a part of my life to my guidebook several years ago where are not only listed as a native of the town but the townspeople remember me writing my tricycle. [laughter] so that is, you know -- so i feel my sense of place's completely made up. completely phony completely phony and there is nothing that i can do about it. >> let me ask you about your treatment of another place in the book your new novel, the when you are working on now is set and really about
childhood. how has that city changing your imagination? >> well, the south has changed totally because it has changed from the way that it was when i was a child. i was eating and buford the other day, group of women eating, obviously in the same office, laughing their behind off. i could here them talking about their boss. and so another story, these women, there are about ten of them and they are screaming and laughing about this boss and his idiosyncrasies. five of the women were black, five or white, commanded tickled me to see it. i was eating dinner with a friend of mine from new york. and he said, what are you laughing at? i said, that would have been
illegal when i 1st came to buford. hell, you are always exaggerating. no. they would have been arrested. because you know, blacks could not eaten this restaurant. and he said comeau what restaurant? and i said, i don't think they could eat in any restaurant. i did not know of a black restaurant and buford. i have watched so many changes come over from the civil rights movement in the south. i watched it but did not get to see it. it was amazing to me. the south could never change then okay. i have seen the light. the women's liberation movement comes roaring around the corner. did you know it was coming? i saw a few of the girls they graduated from high school with me not long ago and had lunch, and they remember what girls were
told that they could do. boys, we were told the world. we have to conquer the world, astronauts, go to the moon. the girls were told that they could go out, be secretaries, nurses, librarians, teachers, and they could be the most wonderful of all locations, they could be mothers. and i'm sitting here, some of these women who have done extraordinary things, big law firms in columbia, amazingly well, and the women have done at least as well as the men of my class. hope will by the way, how many people thought you would see gay marriage in the south in your lifetime? i don't know what i will see before i die. no idea. but it certainly has been interesting, and i even
predict. and i like the way that the southerner figures it out. i went to a gay wedding not long ago. it was interesting talking to grandparents. it was always love, billy. we still love this. such a nice boy. [laughter] so i just -- you know, it is interesting to me that way of watching since i have been alive. i'm sorry. where is catherine seltzer? where children? stand up so that i can see you. there he is. go ahead, go ahead.
>> an attempt to derail me from the tough questions. i am back. let me ask you about writing down. the south has changed. has your writing about a changed? a changed? the way that you view it changed, the way that you situate this novel in progress right now changed? >> you know, the most powerful thing that has happened to me is the person that loves charles the recent killing of the night parishioners at emmanuel methodist episcopal church in charleston where young white kid goes in with the gun. and i think he said command he listened to the service? and the service was about god, the service of god. nine people were shot south
carolina could grieve in one voice everybody could grieve together each race was just as horrified as the other. and the, you know, aching inability to make sense out of it, to make religious or spiritual sense out of that thing is one of the most amazing things that i have ever been through and charleston. it just was. >> i want to ask you a little bit more about the knew novel because people ask me about it a lot and are excited about it. but i want to ask about it from a different angle, your
process, your writing process because it is something that i have thought a lot about in regard to how you do it. all of us who are not writers because it seems magical to us. and the way pat rights is particularly magical. his papers are now available at the university of south carolina library. and he writes entirely in long hand, and to look at these is really to see something unbelievable because there are not a lot of things scratched out, not a lot of notes and margins, not missing pages. the books emerge in full voice fully realized, and my real question, of course is, how do you do that? i would like to ask more generally about your writing process and maybe about how you are purchasing this right now with this novel?
>> one of the processes in writing is, i try to at least have a beginning, and i have found it, there is usually somebody narrating a lot like me. my sister says, the narrator is always some wonderful life affirming, fabulous young man out of the south who has a hideous family, unspeakable sisters command he, of course, knows all things, feels all things, is compassionate beyond human belief command the entire book runs through him, through his brilliance. so that is what the new book is basically about. [laughter] but, youbut, you know, the thing that i love about writing is what i hear them i went to a wedding. i don't don't know if you ever went to a wedding that was not yours.
it was the 1st time that you find out, a wedding is a place to go to to meet other people, you know, to possibly find your own wife or husband, possibly go to find somebody to fall in love with. the spirits were open.open. and so i wanted to write about one part that intimidated me because this is so painful to me, not to him, but my best friend was getting married and he said, we are not even having taxes because you know, my family knows the your family is too cheap to rent the tax. so do you think that you could spring for a blue suit? so pathetically i go to my mother crippled by the depression, mauled by the depression and i said,i said, mom, i need to buy a blue suit. no. i said, mom, i just
graduated from the citadel. i can i wear my uniform. because i have graduated. i thought it would be nice if you got married and it. and ii said, mom, mary when i'm 40 and a citadel uniform so we went to robert hall. do you remember robert hall? it was not like the greatest place on earth, but it was certainly in my category. i go in they're and see is suit for $88. okay. i did not have a presence, graduation present. so mom found one for 3999. she liked it better. oh, gosh., gosh. what a shock that you like it better. and finally i took this thing out and i was shoplifting.
i am shoplifting this suit out of the store, announcing this tall robert hall people youyou can arrest me in that car, i will be driving down the highway. mom rushes to pay for the suit. i am re-creating that wedding is one of the things that starts out this new book because a million things happened to me at that wedding. one thing that happens in the novel, you are asking camino,camino, my son married a nice girl, pretty girl, pretty uninteresting to me. i met other people, nice, really nice carly pretty pretty uninteresting to me. as women start talking. so they start talking and i had to characters that i have fallen in love with that i thought were dopes. in my mind command my perception of them they were
not interesting, had no part of this book. i started writing their dialogue down, and they flamed into radiant life. and. and i have to watch out, these two women taking over this book right now command i had no idea. i just did not know. you have seems that you want to include. but taken by surprise by your own works. is that frustrating, terrifying, exciting, or are you used to it now? used to the voices cutting to you? >> here is what i do now. whether i want them or not they are coming out. one stupid thing i did.
i still shudder. every once in a while, i can go a little further than one wants a writer to go. part of my weakness as a writer. i am fully aware of this. but i am seeing and have prince of tides, this escaped prisoner into buddies. they tear apart the wingo family.family. rape the mother, rip the sister car at the sun. i don't know how to get around it. with my favorite south carolina stories, tiger at a gas station in columbia, south carolina.
they give you a free car wash and fill the tank up and then you go, chicken necks. it is great. hundred and 10 degrees in columbia. it is hot. a very miserable tiger. i have this horrible scene going on in the end of the book. we go to a party in italy. this beautiful italian woman sitting next to me, but because i have eyes like a novelist i see deeper than you. abcaseven i cannot help but notice that she is missing her left arm. and this beautiful dress. this pin. and she was sitting there
talking and finally i said, ma'am, i hope this is not offend you. how did you lose your arm? and she said, i was at the zoo and saw someone trying to abuse a tiger with a shovel to my hitting the tiger in the face with a shovel and went to the rescue of the tiger. he tore my arm off. so i'm looking up. i look over at my wife and say, i have a tiger in the backyard of the wingo house in beaufort. that is the result. what a stupid thing to do. you know, 1st of all, what is that tiger doing? i put him there. and how do you get out --
your family getting murdered. he simply bring a tiger to the house, knock on the door , and they get aa big surprise. and i have always considered that part of my ridiculous -- and i mentioned thisi mentioned this a couple of times in interviews, intel i stopped when somebody said, mr. conroy, shut up, just shut up, it was an audience like this and i said why and they said, because people like me need that tiger. we have to have that tiger. we have got to have it command you have got to put it in. so, that is a long way to answer that. >> let me go back to asking a little bit about your process. one of the things you talk
about is reading poetry before you write. and more poetry across really periods of time and geographical space and you really sort of -- what is it about that reading that inspires your own writing and got you started? >> poetry to the poetry to me still, i don't know how they do it. how many books of poems of you bought in the last five years? and very good. i buy a lot. and the poets i still go to for the changes in the language to make me see language in a different way, to make me look at language. unlike monopolists do that, too, but that, too, but poets do that for me. and it was a poet named beth ann finley.
teaches at the university of minnesota be. went back, ordered her book. she was great which led me to other books. and i have hundreds of books and my sister writes poetry. one of the things she does to me when someone dies, i will do a eulogy. and in the last several funerals, she tells me -- and i always love this, literary feuding at its best. looking. over me and says, you pass me your prose 1st. i am a poet. [laughter] and poetry is far more serious than prose. as every educated man or woman will tell you. [laughter]
but there is nothing i can do about it now. >> those letters in particular are so wonderful because you were writing when you were doing civil rights work and speaking out, they are deeply thoughtful letters. really, really interesting. i guess that does bring up one of the questions i wanted to ask, when you visit those past pieces of work, you talked a lot in interviews about going back and reviewing your family history. in my losing season you have a
line that says no outsider i have ever met has tried to discover the deepest history of the boy i i once was. i loved that. when you're writing, do you feel like you know that self better? >> in all my books i feel like i'm trying to figure out who i am. i have a friend named janice owens and i've never cared about genealogy at all, and there were things that i did not wish to find out, and she tells me a great great grandmother turns
out to be full blood cherokee indian. my mother had no idea that her family came over in the 1700s. it's just been complete shock. you don't know the family you came from. what i was trying to do in writing was just figure out, who i am, why am i here and here and what's this all about. what is it y'all came for today that you wanted to hear me say
to you? when i can't even say something to myself that helps me out. [laughter] all of that comes into it. that's why we read books. that's why you get this chance to go away from yourself and get away from yourself is by reading that book and that can take off and i can escape. i am in a world that no one can come close to, especially now that they have me -- i'm in the airport and everyone is working at the right hand and i would've never imagined this happen that everybody is trained to look at their right hand in the entire airport, and including people working. [laughter]
that's a journey, that something something wonderful. >> let me ask you this, i've been reading a lot of literary biography lately and one of the things that surprised me at first and now i've come to expect is that every writer argues that writing gets no easier. it's always a difficult task. that exploration of the self never gets easier. that seemed surprising to me initially but it's starting to make sense. i wonder if that is true to you and if you can speak to that a little bit restaurant. >> i think it's true for everybody. one thing i know about y'all is that you want to write or you're inspired to writing and part of it is because it was you and me and you sit down. okay, say you're going to write a novel. how do you get over that feeling? here i am. hemingway once did what i did. [laughter] henry james once did what i did.
and now pat conroy, irish boy from the bronx rights. taking yourself seriously as a writer is one of the hardest thing in the world. it's at me for novels before i could tell anyone i was a writer. i used to tell everyone i was a teacher because nobody ever asks you a question if you say you are a teacher. they don't want to know one thing else about you. it has never gotten easier. it still gets harder yet i can't do anything else and i can't do anything about it. >> let me ask you about the challenge of writing this novel
particularly. you kind of threw down the gauntlet for yourself and you said you were not going to write about your parents anymore. that you had explored that relationship to your satisfaction. your moving away from that. has that been harder than you thought it might be? or has it been liberating? >> it's been pleasant in this way, i knew i was going to lose my sister carol who is my beloved sister carol and i was going to lose her forever. that was going to be something i lost. i didn't want to lose people over these books but sometimes it's for a while. sometimes they get over it quickly. but i've lost everybody for a time in writing these books. i've never explained it to you very well when you asked me these ridiculously personal, intimate questions.
you asked me why do you do this in the early thing i can think is i understand the problem with troops truce and it gets hard no matter what you do. if i don't try to tell the truth as i know it, if i try to hide it because someone will get their feelings hurt, i will get my feelings hurt, then my job is to be as honest to you guys so you can believe or not believe what i'm telling. there is a relationship between the writer and the reader that is a very important one for me. it is one that i do not forget about.
my sister, do you all have sisters and brothers? oh my gosh, one of the characters in the book called my agents a few days ago and said there could be legal problems. that will come up every once in a while. but here's my theory. if you ever threatened to sue me, i can promise you you have never been in a court where you've had to pay your lawyer. it's that paying the lawyer that makes court very painful. >> let me ask you one more question about that truth with a t. when you are writing, do you ever feel like you are skirting around the truth and you have to go back and revisit it and find that truth? or by the time are you are ready
to write you have a story that you are ready to tell that is authentic and true? >> i've usually thought a lot of about these stories before i put them down. carol i use this and you've heard me use this 100 times, there was a university of georgia fraternity guy and i was in atlanta. this guy set my whole life for me. he comes up and you know the guy, university of tennessee, you know the guy. he marries the sorority president. you've never seen anyone look happier and you know there kids favorite book is going to be the book of common prayer.
[laughter] anyway, this kid comes up and he was too cocky for me. i like people that look at me as scant. he was just a little too much for me. so he looks at me and he said, hey conroy, conroy, let's admit it, your family is nuts aren't they. he's like i'm the president of this fraternity and you would not get in the back door to deliver our groceries. i said yeah my family is crazy, and i said how's your family question asked. >> he was taken aback by that any goes back and he says my family's great. they came over on plymouth rock
and there's plantations all over the place. then i said be honest. how far do i have to go in this room with each one of you until i hit the first crazy in your family? [laughter] all right. [applause]. you see what i mean. usually it's dad, mom brother sister aunt, uncle, generally we don't have to go beyond that discussion. we don't have to get to quadruple third cousins. will the sport try to help president, she finally breaks
and she says his mother is nuts. [laughter] generally, those things of the hard things to say. when you're writing, writing, those things of the hard things. i look at catherine's family, handsome's husband who is a narrow surgeon in their perfect kids. i remember that moment, it was a a magical moment when i turned . this is a high-rise,. [laughter] you watch all of this stuff, these things we all go through. that is the truth. we all go through these things. you find a way to deal with them one way or another.
>> we have just ten minutes left in the presentation. when i say ten minutes, i mean they are going to throw us out in ten minutes. there could be an accident on the way out. we did when i opened it up for questions so we can address your questions as well. it will just be a couple questions today but there is a microphone set up if you are able to make your way. we'll start with you because you are already right here in the center aisle. yes, absolutely. >> i get from your novel that you have one brother you really like him from this morning i i understand you have a sister you really like, but you didn't get along well with the rest year family. am i wrong? >> here national, you're right. if i was in south carolina, you're totally wrong, sir. my brothers and sisters tickle me.
i mean carol is a different sort. she came up to me at my mother's funeral and said pat, my shrink in new york said our family is toxic. >> i said carol, i've made made a living off that fact. [applause]. this is not a surprise. my shrink says i should never talk to any of you ever again. this this is the last time you are either going to see me again. what a pleasant time to bring it up, carol. why don't we have this discussion while sitting on mom's head. [laughter] we have the exposed casket. why don't we just show her head or body and discuss this there.
i mean carol, basically, we have not seen her since that funeral. mom was 59. that was 1984. the other brothers and sisters, they're funny. my family is a funny family. they have a thing where they do what is carol. what is she going to do if she gets a phone call that pat is dead? all four of them jump up and they do this, they go, let me show you. [laughter] [laughter] the family was getting along. we married people off and we do
this. when we do this, when they do carol's dance of joy when pat is dead, we are all screaming laughing. we can't help it. we are all just screaming. another question. they have nazi -like rules at nashville on time. i remember this from last year. [inaudible] >> can you speak a little bit more about the comment of your responsibility to tell the truth?? >> i consider that a simple question. it is the responsibility, the question is,. >> to clarify his point that the responsibility of the writer is to the truth of the story rather and to the feelings of thosex!oo might be rendered characters in
the story. is that fair of your question? >> is a little different, is it the responsibility to the readers? >> while you read me, if you didn't think i was going to tell you the truth, why would i do that? when i read a writer, i like to tell myself, i may be lying to myself but this reader, or this writer is trying to tell me something i need to know to get along on earth, something, some secret i need to have. as a writer, it's a great way to do that. there's this book i read last year that i went nuts over. this guy in france, all the light you cannot see. i just went crazy over that book.
i thought this guy did not seem to be writing about anybody he knew but i don't know that. what he did, he was able to move me in a way that i like to be moved in a book. i like to feel things in a book. i think writers like to make people thinks think things in a book. the responsibility to me, if you read write about your family, they have a right to tell you what they think about that. they have that right. sometimes it is very rough what they think about that. but that is okay. you get by that. i've not been ashamed of anything i have written that i can think of about someone in my family. my first wife says, you can never write about me pat because i am the sacred topic.
written broader i've written about her twice. she was lovely. she came in the room and then she laughed and you can do it that way. if you're going to write hard and seriously, you need to take everything that you're climbing toward the truth makes you do. i don't think you have any other responsibility for that. moms and dads can be the toughest. your brothers and sisters, they can be tough. i've now written about all of them and survive. my brothers and sisters have a book out about the conway family speaks. the conroy family speaks.
my family has fallen in love with the lights. pat won't be available for interviews. [laughter] we look over the pictures and they say we will choose the best one. they were crazy about the cover of the book because the family looks like wax works. they say i look like that?? i say yeah, yeah you do. look, we have an ugly family. you need to get used to it. then they're saying, were not that ugly. i said yes we are, there's proof of it. it's right there. now that. now that i'm getting older and ready to die, there's a coming aboard, to my surprise. >> that book is called conversation with the conroy's and it will be out this month.
it will be one very last quick question. i think work at getting a signal but i'm going to pretend it's a friendly one. >> what is your definition of truth and why is it important. why do you find it so important? [laughter] >> truth for me is basically what am i afraid to tell people? what am i scared of? i was afraid to write about certain things because i knew what i was going to get and i i got it. the storm came on and i got it. so i was right to worry about that. i was terrified about mom and dad. dad's nickname was the great
santini in the marine corps. all these things with me is what i am afraid to say and why am i afraid to say? when i started writing, what i was really afraid to write about was my relationship with carol. carol has tremendous mineral crops. what you do, say good god, that's unorthodox? my brother tom committed suicide. he found at the bottom of the stairwell and what we say, he must have tripped?? we always come to something you know other people are going to be angry and curious about.