Beaufort News

At 70, Conroy looks ahead while trying to make 'a separate peace' with past

Jennifer Hitchcock

Pat Conroy is feeling pretty good these days.



The fitness and nutrition regimen he's been on for the past year or so -- a program he famously started after his health reached rock bottom -- has left him feeling better and given him more energy. And he's writing more -- an added bonus.



"It's working," he said by phone recently, then quickly added, "I think." 



But the author, who had just come from Mina & Conroy Fitness Studio in Port Royal, a studio he opened with personal trainer Mina Truong in April, said there still are things he has had to come to grips with.



For one, there's the realization that he may have to endure physical pain every day of his life, now that he's getting in shape.



"I've spent 40 years becoming an expert on how to be unhealthy," he said. "It was more than a hobby. It was a way of life for me."



It's all part of a period of reflection the writer and best-selling author of some 11 books said he's going through. 



Whether it was triggered by an upcoming literary festival bearing his name or a renewed sense of health, it's hard to say.



Whatever the cause, Conroy said he has found himself "diving into the wrecks" lately.



Case in point, there's the matter of the literary festival.



"I've slipped into a nausea, a horror, a complete anxiety and, let's see what else, a complete fear of this weekend that is coming," he said.



Still, the author, who will turn 70 on Monday -- a few short days before "Pat Conroy at 70" kicks off on Thursday -- said in his typical self-deprecating, jovial way that he thinks he's strong enough to get through it.



All joking aside, the anxiety he's feeling over the three-day event is partly from a reluctance to have a festival in his honor in the first place.



"It sounds like braggadocio, but I keep saying, 'Why did I agree to do this?'<2009>"



Organized by friends as a way of tormenting him, Conroy joked, the festival will bring authors and artists from across the country to his beloved Beaufort.



His anxiety also stems from a natural worry over who in his family may attend, who may nd who may become offended by some perceived slight or something said. 



It's a concern that's not unfounded.



"The one common thing we share is there is always someone not talking to someone in the family," he said.



The festival, in fact, will feature a family roundtable with all of Conroy's "favorite siblings" as one of its panel discussions. 



His apprehension over mixing friends and family makes the author sound not unlike everyone else who has ever gone through a family or high school class reunion.



And while he admits being excited about the roundtable and a future beyond the festival and all of its accompanying celebrations, feelings of reflection and a sometimes painful past are never far behind.



It's a past that first spurred him to write books including "The Great Santini" and one that was later documented in "The Death of Santini," a memoir about his father and his childhood.



And it's a past he's continually tried to make "a kind of separate peace" with, he said.



Asked whether he looks back on his past as a life well lived, or something to have survived, Conroy said without hesitation, "It's both of those things."



"And I'm especially trying to figure that out now."

 

IF YOU GO

"Pat Conroy at 70" will celebrate the writing life of the best-selling author with a variety of events, including poetry readings, panel discussions and luncheons, Oct. 29 through Oct. 31.

The majority of events will be held at the University of South Carolina Beaufort Center for the Arts, 805 Carteret St., Beaufort, with other activities planned for venues in and around Beaufort.

Highlights from the three-day festival include a screening of "The Great Santini" followed by a panel discussion, and an opening reception and book signing on Thursday.

In addition, the festival will feature a book signing with participating authors and artists, a family roundtable featuring all of Conroy's "favorite siblings" and a birthday party to cap off the event on Saturday.

Day passes are available ranging from $35 to $55, as well as an all-weekend pass.

For updates on the festival including changes to the lineup, visithttp://www.facebook.com/PatConroyAt70 or http://www.patconroyat70.com.

Follow reporter Mindy Lucas at twitter.com/MindyatIPBG.

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