Pat Conroy at Talking Volumes, Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, on 11/12/13. Photo by Tom Campbell.
As millions of readers know, Pat Conroy has major parent issues.
The bestselling author of such hit books as "The Great Santini" and "The Prince of Tides" was in St. Paul on Tuesday night as part of Talking Volumes, a series that brings writers to town for live interviews at the Fitzgerald Theater.
Much of his hour-long talk with Kerri Miller of Minnesota Public Radio centered on his beautiful, "beloved mom" and his violent, abusive and egomaniacal dad. (Conroy always used "mom" and "dad" in referring to his parents, not "mother" and "father.")
Conroy described the rage and frustration he experienced as a boy when he couldn't protect his mother from his father's violent abuse. He described how he and his siblings learned to duck and hide from Donald Conroy's wrath.
His new book, "The Death of Santini," is a memoir that revisits some of the horrors of growing up as well as the changes he said his father underwent in the latter years of his life. "My dad had a great second act," Conroy said, referring to his father's occasional realizations that he had been a bad parent and that all his children "hated his guts."
Conroy's hair-curling stories of his violent, peripatetic childhood were softened by his folksy-dark humor. When his fighter-pilot dad said, "I should have beaten you more, you'd a been a better writer," Conroy says he replied, "If you beat me any more, I'd be Shakespeare."
His father belittled Conroy's decision to become a writer as "gay," so Conroy later got a Hollywood studio write to his father telling him that they had decided to cast Truman Capote to play him in the movie, "The Great Santini." (In fact that part was played by Robert Duvall.")
Conroy said that while he wasn't wild about cold weather, he thought he would make a good Minnesotan because everyone here is so unhappy. Later he asked, "Does everyone in Minnesota keep a journal?"
Asked for his views on religion, Conroy said that for him, writing had a spiritual aspect, and that he would like to see the Catholic Church make writer Flannery O'Connor a saint.
Conroy praised his mother for encouraging her children to read, and praised the novelist Thomas Wolfe for turning him on to the glories of fiction. "When I read 'Look Homeward, Angel,' I was changed forever," he said.
As one audience member commented via Twitter: "# has the audience shifting swiftly between shared tears & brilliant laughter."
Star Tribune books editor Laurie Hertzel recently profiled Conroy,here.
The conversation with Conroy will be broadcast Nov. 25 in the 11 a.m. hour on MPR. More quotes and comments from the evening can be read on Twitter, under the hashtag #TalkingVolumes.
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