Conversations with the Greats

Pat Conroy, author of several novels, including The Great Santini. The book is written about the tumultuous relationship with his father, an US Marine.

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

“[Culture at the Citadel] showed me something about mankind I needed to know as a writer.” – Pat Conroy

Good year so far. Not in terms of making money or publications, but the fact I have been lucky to meet writers, listen to talented authors, and learn. Last weekend, I attended the South Carolina Book Fair. I attended Saturday when authors Pat Conroy and Dr. Walter Edgar spoke.

I am rarely star-struck by people. While some of my students go wild over Bieber Fever, I turn into the 19-year-old tripping over bricks whenever I have the chance to speak with a author, man who does everything, and my former professor, Dr. Walter Edgar.


The man who is a walking dictionary of South Carolina history taught me the most important facts of my writing career.

It is not enough to write the facts on my exams. I need to describe and dig into the history.  Edgar speaks with a passion about history and his writing.

It was in history, not English class, where I learned to write. Dr. Edgar influenced my early research work for Sons of the Edisto.

Conversation with Dr. Edgar


Dr. Edgar is a man with things to do and places to go. He is not afraid to cut fans off.

A man in front of me wanted to speak with him after the interview between Pat Conroy and him.

“I’m sorry. I have to go,” he said.

I shrugged my shoulders. All I wished to say was, “Thank you for instruction, your encouragement, and my recommendation years ago to the University of Kent at Canterbury.”

I returned to my mother and grandmother. As Dr. Edgar walked by, my mother waved her hands in the air and called his name.

Oh Lord, hide me in a cave.

“My daughter is a writer, and she learned so much from your classes,” she said like a 16-year-old girl ready to cheer at a football game.

Dr. Edgar again nodded his head, looked at me once, and walked off with his thoughts. Mom is one of my biggest cheerleaders, but I wanted to bury myself in the crowd of people still hoping to talk to Conroy or Edgar.

My grandmother, Mimi, and Mom, my number 1 cheerleader, wait hear Conroy and Edgar.

The moment Pat Conroy walks on the stage and shakes hands with Dr. Walter Edgar.

Real Conversation of the Greats

What makes a person great? What makes a writer unforgettable? An author need not be known throughout the world. He or she makes the difference when the writer composes the first word. In My Reading Lifewhich is a book I recommend for every writer—Conroy describes the influences in his writing life. He has read almost all books known in the world.

Conroy spoke with energy about his career and some of his most famous books. In each part of life, he found inspiration. He spoke of how young cadets treated each other at the Citadel, and it infuriated him. When he lost his teaching jobs, he wrote a memoir about his experience on Yamacraw Island, SC instructing poor students cut off from most of the world. Anger and heartbreak also drove him to write The Great Santini.

Another author, Hank Phillippi Ryan, said to me, “Write what you fear.” Conroy had much to fear in the early part of his life.

Do we, as writers, write what we fear?

I chose to write a book inspired by my grandfather because I was scared he would be forgotten and his brave action, in one circumstance, not remembered.

What do you learn from your greats?


One thought on “Conversations with the Greats

  1. I like that approach of write what you fear. I’m not sure I’m quite ready for that, but they are kind of like moments I am storing up for the right project to come along.

    It is nice to see / hear authors and writers speak, especially ones who have been a big influence. It must have been fun.

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