[music playing] [applause]>>Ann Patchett: You’re far away. Oh look,
and there’s the microphone. Hello, Nashville. I’m going to tell you a story
about how I met Pat Conroy. Because it’s a very moving story to me,
and I don’t–actually, I think it is one that you’ll remember.
But it was 1994 in Oxford, Mississippi at some Mississippi book festival thing, and I was there for my second novel,Taft,
a book that sold, I think, eight copies outside of my immediate family,
and you stood in line. You were it, you were just the it beyond it, and you were there with your dad, now,
I met your dad, you were doing the Pat and Dad show,
>>Pat Conroy: I’m so sorry>>Patchett: We have so much to talk about. John Berendt was there,
>>Conroy: I remember that>>Patchett: who wrote
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, because he was writing a profile
about you for Vanity Fair. This was a very, very big deal.
You stood in my line and opened up the book, bought the hardback book, and said,
“Would you sign this? My name is Pat Conroy.” [ laughter ] I–nothing like that ever happened again.
That was a huge, huge deal. Then, about six years ago, I was at Duke
at another one of those things I was with Bob Butler, and I was
meeting him for dinner. We were in a hotel lobby, and I came
across the lobby. Bob was talking to you, and Bob said,
“Do you know Pat Conroy?” I said, “No. I’m Ann Patchett.”
You said, “I know you. I stood in your signing line
in Oxford, Mississippi, in 1994 [laughter]
and bought your novel Taft, and you said, “But you weren’t Ann Patchett then, were you?” [ laughter ] You’re good, Mister!
[laughter] That was very meaningful.
So now, I get to say thank you. We’re really, really glad you’re here.
And because I’m starting book tour on Monday, and this is Pat’s pub day.
This is a huge deal. It’s a huge deal he’s here,
and a huge deal he’s here on pub day. [ applause ]>>Conroy: The one thing I told my publishers
at Doubleday when the book was coming out: “I’ve been reading about Ann Patchett.
Her bookstore Parnassus is an independent bookstore, and I said, “The one place I must go,
and have to go, and I want to go, and I will go, is Parnassus
in Nashville, Tennessee.>>Patchett: Wow, thank you.
[applause]>>Conroy: First of all, because I want to support
independent bookstores, wherever they are and second, is I’d like to just stare
at Ann Patchett for about a night. [ laughter ]>>Patchett: We can make
all your dreams come true, Pat. [ laughter ] So how are you feeling about book tour?
And I really–them aside, I–I need to know.
How is this, how will this be? How has it been?>>Conroy: Book tours are very strange to me.
Book tours are–I meet y’all tonight, and I have my mother on my right shoulder.
“Hi y’all.” [ laughter ] I hear my mother saying, “Look them all
in the eyes, Son. Make sure you ask them where they are from.
Ask them one question about themselves.” [ laughter ] “Pretend you’re interested, even if you’re not.”
[laughter] So, my mother’s good manners always come to tours with me.
And I like that. I’m glad that happens.
And you also get to meet your readers, for the only time in your life.
I can’t do the– I understand I have a Facebook page.
I do not know how to get on Facebook. [laughter]
>>Patchett: No. I’ve never looked at Facebook. I don’t want to know.
>>Conroy: I just don’t even know how to do it! Someone told me I have a Twitter account.
I don’t even know what that is. [laughter]
The way I connect with readers is times like this when–when I can’t see them [ laughter ] yet I know they’re out there, and I know
they will tell me about what they’re reading and I will tell them about what I’ve been writing and I like that connection you have
with your readers on these tours.>>Patchett: Talk a little bit about going
on tour with your dad. Because it will get us to where we’re going,
talking about your book.>>Conroy: Where I was with dad?
>>Patchett: No, about going on tour. That’s just so weird.
You went on tour with your dad.>>Conroy: Oh yes. Well, no no no.
If I gave that–correction, I was wrong. My father went on tour with me.
[laughter]>>Patchett: Forgive me. You’re absolutely right.
>>Conroy: And what would happen, if you and I were talking here tonight you could see a hulking figure
in the background up here on stage. He’d break in and figure out a way to come out
and sit there to join the conversation. Eventually he would take over the conversation.
[laughter] But I got moved when he–The Great Santini
came out, and he hated that book with his body and soul.
He hated everything about it. He hated my portrait of him as a father,
as a husband, as a Marine. He loathed that book.
But I was attacked by his family enough that as I was signing The Great Santini,
and you know those first books, as you just mentioned.
I had, I think,12 intergalactic sales during that season.
But, I noticed Dad would come and sit beside me.
And he got in the habit of signing my books with me.
[laughter] Now, for Dad, he would sign–this is why
he was “The Great Santini,” “I certainly hope you enjoy my son’s
work of fiction.” [laughter] He would underline “fiction” five or six times. And he said, my son certainly has
an extraordinary imagination. And he would sign, “Ol’ lovable, likeable
Don Conroy, The Great Santini himself.” This is kind of normal for The Great Santini. He did it for every book I wrote after that. One time I had a big signing
in Charlotte, of four or five hours. Dad was beside me the whole time.
And I got to translate this way, it may be wrong. I thought of my father, who was
an articulate man, inarticulate man with love. It was his way of telling me he loved me.
Because when I–Prince of Tides came out, I said, “Dad, what are you signing
The Prince of Tides for?” [laughter] And my father in his great modesty said,
“I am the seed, son.” [ laughter ] “I am the source.” And I said, “Dad, you sound
like it’s a cattle food shop.” But, it was his way of participating
in a creative event, that I came to appreciate very much.
>>Patchett: I guess that’s what I want to know. Did you? Did you come to love
having him there? Was it okay ultimately that he was there?
>>Conroy: It was–he made that okay with– I’ve never seen a guy change
because of a work of fiction. But I think Dad made an effort–
and my mother divorcing him at the same time. My father–now, here’s my father.
“Okay, son–” I went to talk with Dad, and I said,
“Dad–” and he’s weeping, which Dad never did. He’s weeping– “Oh, I’ve got divorce papers
from your mother.” And he’s crying, we’re at Manuel’s Tavern
in Atlanta, he’s weeping and crying. I said, “Dad, do you see
what you did wrong now? Do you understand what you did wrong?”
And poor Dad, going, “Yeah!” And I said, “What do you think it was, Dad?”
And he said, “I was way too easy
on your mother and the kids.” [laughter] “I should have cracked down harder.”
And I looked at him across the table, I said, “Dad, Caligula couldn’t have
cracked down harder.” [laughter] And he said, “No, no, this is–”
He goes to the judge. My mother has given the judge
a copy of The Great Santini [ laughter ] and said, “It’s all here, Your Honor.”
[laughter] My mother and sister testified on scenes
from The Great Santini I had invented. I had made up.
So–and Dad gets up in court, and this is Beaufort, South Carolina.
He says, “You cannot divorce me, Judge.” This is the judge, rather surprised:
“Really? Why not, Colonel?” “Because I’m a Roman Catholic.” And when the family hear this, we all– And he said, “I was married forever.
And this Court has no power to divorce me and Peg.”
He was divorced about five minutes later. [laughter] But, it was Dad.
It was that Marine, hard-charging guy. Didn’t have a chance.
>>Patchett: When you sat down to write The Death of Santini, did you go back
and read The Great Santini again?>>Conroy: No. [laughter] I found it too painful.
>>Patchett: I can’t read any of my own work. I can’t. >>Conroy: I said, first of all–
I was like, How did this get published? This stinks. But also–
>>Patchett: You didn’t read it. How do you know?
[laughter] We read it.
We really liked it.>>Conroy: It–I just didn’t–I’ve been attacked
about it within my family so much, that I know where I screwed up with them.
And it’s–my father’s family from Chicago, Irish, holy God. [laughter]
They’ve hated that book and hated that book. But I didn’t need to.
Those things–you know, I remember my first memory, one of these little things
they get us to do all the time, like Penn? >>Patchett: Yeah.
>>Conroy: Penn had me go up with a thing, and it was, “Five minutes: your first memory.”
My first memory was being in a highchair and I was in a base in El Toro. I remember my father beating my mother,
backhanding her to the floor with her trying to stab him with a butcher knife. And I remember my face, my whole baby face, inflamed, and I–I didn’t know how to talk then. What it was inflamed with,
I later realized, was hatred. I didn’t know there was
an English word for hatred. So, I didn’t have to go back for that.
That is always with me. That lives with me every day.
I don’t have to do research on it, study it, It is there.
>>Patchett: Well, I’ll tell you what’s interesting, because to do this I read Prince of Tides,
Great Santini, Death of Santini in a row, to get up to speed–I hadn’t read
Great Santini since I was in college. It’s a remarkably mild book.
I think you would be surprised. The violence in–in that book is nothing, nothing compared to The Prince of Tides.
And nothing compared to Death of Santini. I think you really soft-sold it.>>Conroy: Here’s what happened
to me on that, Ann. And, you know, why is such
a penetrating question a troubling one. I’ve had great editors in my life,
starting with Shannon Ravenel Jonathan Galassi, Nan Talese–
I had an interim editor named Ann Barrett who, I think, was in her 80s
when she took–and you have never seen– she looked like a figure who would
go to a baseball game with Mary Ann Moore.>>Patchett: [laughter]
>>Conroy: I mean, she just had that look. I would write her these things
and instantly she would write back, “Pat, no one will believe this character.
He’s too mean. He’s too horrible. He’s not believable,
and we will not publish your book. So I kept trying to add scenes,
and I got my brothers and sisters together and I said, “Did Dad ever screw up
and treat us nicely–” [laughter] “when we were growing up?”
And I was very serious! And we would think–we were seven of us then.
We’d think, and I’d think, and finally came up, “No.”
I said, “Did he get us a hot dog?” “Nah.” “Take us out for an ice cream cone?”
“Nah.” “Take us to the ball game?”
“Nah.” We could not come up with anything,
but Ann Barrett would not believe the guy was knocking us all over the place,
hitting us, beating my mother to a pulp. She would not believe it.
So I cut that out, and I made up stories I’d have liked Dad to have done.
He gives his son a flight jacket on his birthday. I thought, What a nice thing that would’ve been.
So I enjoyed writing that scene, that never happened.
Then his daughter goes to her first prom, and Dad has roses sent to the house.
So, when later I asked Dad, “Did you like those scenes, Dad?”
“Oh God, I loved those scenes. What a great guy I was.”
[laughter] And I said, “Dad, I made them up.
You didn’t do any of it. Anything you did nice in the book I invented.” And you’re absolutely right, and you’re a very
good reader–I had to tone it down to get it accepted at Houghton Miflin.
>>Patchett: Did you feel like, with Prince of Tides, the violence
is much larger in Prince of Tides>>Conroy: Yes.
>>Patchett: than it is in Death of Santini?>>Conroy: There’s no question about it.
>>Patchett: And it’s almost–it’s so interesting to read you, because it is like I’m reading a map
to read the books back-to-back of kind of coming to terms,
and this book, Death of Santini is where you come to terms.
And the thing that I’d like to sit down and talk to you about all night is the idea that
you wrote a non fiction sequel to a novel. >>Conroy: Yes.
>>Patchett: That just blows my mind. [ applause ] And–this is your best book. I mean, this is an astonishingly good book. Couldn’t–it’s compulsive.
I couldn’t stop. But it’s almost like you’re trying
for the truth, in fiction, and then you finally just say,
“To hell with it, I’m going to tell the truth.”>>Conroy: I had trouble getting people–
and it was– my father’s family denied it from the very
beginning. And I’ve got to go to Chicago,
and if I’m killed in Chicago– [laughter]
>>Patchett: Oh, if they haven’t killed you by now, they won’t.
>>Conroy: No, this was going to be worse. But it is these things that I thought–
life would get normal. I really did, I thought that you grow up
in a family like mine and life could get okay. Like when you told me the name
of your new book, I thought, Ann Patchett and I should travel
around the world giving talks. When I heard that your book was,
“How to have a beautiful marriage,” I’m thinking, Conroy’s says,
“How to have a train wreck of a life.” [laughter]
And we go around the same stage. But my–
>>Patchett: Sign me up! [laughing]>>Conroy: My feeling was,
if I could simply get this out of me, that had poisoned me
and had poisoned everything about me, how about I go through this violent childhood,
then Dad chooses The Citadel for my rounding off, for my education?
[laughter] And my–I call my mother
after the second week, and she answers the phone–her voice,
I break down, I start crying. And she said, “How do you like college, Son?”
[laughter] And I said, “Oh, Mom, it’s so wonderful. But it isn’t a college.
You sent me to a torture chamber.” She said, “Well, it’ll make a man out of you.”
A man?! She said, “Well, how bad could it be?”
I said, “Here’s how bad it is, Mom. It’s worse than Dad.” And my poor mother goes, “Oh, my God.”
[laughter] “What have we done?” But it seemed to me to be a constant of–turmoil
that I brought this into the lives of the women I love, the children I love,
the friends I’ve had– I’ve brought it everywhere.
I’ve spread it out everywhere. And it has bothered me.
>>Patchett: So do you think you’re putting it to rest with this book?
>>Conroy: Of course not. [laughter]
I will bring havoc–I am worried that I will bring havoc unto my death bed. The Conroys can’t have a wedding, a funeral.
We can’t do anything normal. None of us.
These survivors, my brothers and sisters are a gallant tribe, and–I was worried
about what they had to say about the book. And one of my brothers read it.
He’s the dark one, Jim. He calls me up, and I say,
“How did you like it, Jim?” He said, “I think you’ve written
an adequate book.” [laughter] My brother Mike–“Mike, did you read the book?”
“Yeah.” >>Patchett: That’s the one I hate! [laughing]
>>Conroy: “Do you want to talk about it?” “Nah.”
So it’s not like I’m getting a great literary–>>Patchett: Do you give them the book
in manuscript, or in galley?>>Conroy: I gave them in galley this time
because of cowardice.>>Patchett: So you can’t change it
once they’re seeing it.>>Conroy: Yes. I can’t change it.
>>Patchett: If they say, listen, this doesn’t fly, it doesn’t make any difference.
>>Conroy: Yes, that’s right.>>Patchett: What about the fact that
by the time your dad dies at the end of The Death of Santini, I feel bad?
You teach me as a reader to care about him. To love him, by the end of that book. More than you do your mom.>>Conroy: Ah. [laughter] I knew I shouldn’t come to Nashville.
[uproarious laughter]>>Patchett: I’m sorry! You knew–
>>Conroy: I understand, I understand. And it disturbed me also. My mother I simply adored. She went crazy toward the end of her life,
and that craziness– it really darkened some of the–
my brothers’ and sisters’ view of her.>>Patchett: Get your mic back up.
>>Conroy: Oh, I’m so sorry. Because these are mean people that yell at me
when they can’t hear me. [laughter] But, with Dad–and there were
things about Dad’s death that were so moving.
And Mom died at 59. And we did not get the chance
to grow up enough to accept– her death was just tragic and horrible. And Dad, we got a chance to see him
and his death was slow–we got to prepare for it. And wouldn’t–he was dying, there were moments of what I thought
were truly amazing instances when I–you probably read this when my–
when Dad was actually dying we split time up with the six kids–
>>Patchett: Right.>>Conroy: at six hour intervals,
because we wanted to give Dad a good death. We wanted to take care of Dad
and make sure he was comfortable, make sure he knew he was loved.
And all of this stuff. I came for the morning shift and I hear
my sister Carol, who’s a poet in New York. The most articulate of all of us. And I hear her screaming at Dad. And I walk inside, and Dad is– he’s going to be dead in three days.
I mean, it’s soon. And Carol is screaming this, Ann: “You got to tell me you love me, Dad!
You got to tell me you love me!” And she has tears streaming down her face.
“You got to tell me you’re proud of me, Dad. Proud of my life as a poet.
I’ve made a life as a poet and it’s been hard, it’s been in New York City
and I’ve done it by myself. But you’ve got to tell me you love me,
and you’ve got to tell me you’re proud of me before you die!”
Now, this is moving to me as any thing can be. So I go in, and of course I’m the oldest of seven, and I was the protector, the lookout,
the Rottweiler for the other kids. So, I–[indicating] Carol said later, he wagged
the finger of paternalism. [laughter] And so I wagged it at her.
She comes out, and she’s just a wreck. And she has had a lifetime of mental illness, she’s had a lifetime
of estrangement from the family. She comes out, I said,
“Carol it’s very important for you to know something.
Dad is dying. He’s not going deaf.” [ laughter ] “You don’t have to scream at him.” And Carol is a wreck and she says,
“Pat, he’s never told me he loves me in his whole life.
He never told me he’s proud of me in his whole life.
I’ve written poems–I’ve dedicated poems to Dad over and over again, I’ve done everything I could
to make him proud of me. I’ve deeded him my whole life just
to tell me he loved me. And does he ever tell you that?” And I said, “Carol, to tell you the truth,
every day the phone rings, and I pick it up and it’s Dad.
This has been going on for 30 years. And the phone rings and it’s Dad on the phone. And I say, “Hey, Dad, how are you doing?”
And he says, “Pat, I just have to tell you this. I love you so much I cannot even tell you
or express it in words. [ laughter ] And Pat, I’m so proud of you right now
[laughter] that it makes me want to fall to my knees
in gratitude for the day that you were born. And I only wish I could feel
the same way about Carol.” [ uproarious laughter ] Which Is the perverted Conroy humor. >>Patchett: Ok, finish that story,
because the punchline of your brother-in-law, that’s–
>>Conroy: You’ve read the book, Ann. That’s cheating.
Nobody reads the book on a tour. [laughter] So–I finally–I said, “Carol, I’m joking.
Dad cannot tell us he loves us.” He cannot tell us he’s proud of us.
It’s the Great Santini dying in there. It’s not Bill Cosby, ok? [laughter]
We know that. We’ve got to learn how to translate Dad.
The translation is– it isn’t that hard. Dad has tried to show us
he’s loved us in his own way. Well, I get Carol to come back in– We are sitting there,
and my redneck brother-in-law, Bobby Joe, Now, I ain’t got to explain
to no Tennessee audience what a redneck is– [ laughter ] But, when I tell you– Bobby Joe
makes your relatives look like Rockefellers–
[laughter] and you cannot figure out who
your brothers and sisters are going to marry. That is part of life. It is most difficult. Bobby Joe comes in–
and is redneck as they come. He looks over at my father, and he goes, “Hey old man, how you feelin’?” Dad would be dead in two-and-a-half days.
I hear him say in a weakened voice, “I love you, Bobby Joe!”
[laughter] [ raucous laughter ] “I’m proud of you, Bobby Joe!”
[laughter] My sister goes off like a Roman candle,
and she goes for his throat, [laughter] with both hands, and both of us
have to pull Carol off my dying father. Now Ann– see, I imagine, and I don’t know, that when your parents die, it’s sort of like–
[mimes crying] oh, oh my Lord, and your mother looks up to you, “Ann: literature, fame, loveliness, class–” Not my family.
When Dad gets buried two days later– Okay, you’re– a wedding, funeral, weddings, Not in the Conroy family; it can’t go well.
We drive up with Dad’s body– He has suffered greatly, he’s died well– We’re driving up in all the hearses–
there’s a million of us. My sister Carol, the poet,
leaps out of the hearse before it stops. She leaps out– we have no idea
what she’s doing. She races to the church, goes up to the thing–
she’s going to read a poem. So she lines up water, she’s lining up stuff.
Well, we walk in later– Carol, meanwhile,
comes down and sits beside Dad’s coffin. All right, that means everyone
has to cross over Carol, with our behinds crossing Carol’s face,
to get over. [laughter] So, Carol says, “I must hold my father’s coffin.” “I was closer than anyone to my father.”
[laughter] “No one loved a father the way a poet can love.”
[laughter] “No one possibly in this family could know
how a poet feels.” –and then she looked at me–
“Especially not a prose writer.” [ raucous laughter ] And so, I end up– and I crawl over Carol–
We’re used to Carol, you know. So, the thing starts.
Now, my Uncle Jim, a priest in Chicago, Dad’s brother– he does the ceremony. So, it all starts.
And it’s going to be a Solemn High Mass, in honor of the Great Santini.
Okay, in Catholic church, that’s big stuff. The Mass is going on for about five minutes,
when I get a note– from somebody. I’ve never received a note
at the funeral of my father, so this is– [laughter] I’m a little curious.
But I look down, and– We have a thing that I’m looking at,
of how the thing’s– the ceremony’s going to go. I’m going to read a eulogy, and first,
Carol is going to read a poem. I get this note that says, Pat, I have decided that poetry
is a higher form of art than prose. [ laughter ] Okay, I’m thinking, All right, mhmm.
I can’t quite have this argument here. [laughter] And then she said, You give your prose eulogy for Dad, and I am not
going to let these mumbo-jumbo priests tell me when to give my poem.
I will read it after the ceremony is over, and all the religious mumbo-jumbo is finished. Okay, I’m sitting there. Dad’s died. And I see there are now two people
in this church that know that Carol is not going to read her poem
when it says so on [miming funeral program] So, there’s a part of me that I admit,
and I hate in myself. That my brother says is called
the “Santini” part. And– everyone, I try to keep it down. I promise you all,
I try to keep this buried deep within me. It comes out at this moment.
So, I rise up, like a troll under the bridge. [ laughter ]>>Patchett: Oh you’re scaring me! Stop that!
[laughter]>>Conroy: And I look at Carol, and I say,
“Hey, Carol.” “Give me a break!”
[laughter] And then, I wheel around. Now– It’s a Conroy thing–
Everybody accuses me of exaggerating. [laughter]
I think I’m a shy minimalist. [ louder laughter ] What happened next–
it doesn’t happen to anybody but a Conroy. I turn my back– I am in rage. Red face, horrifying, about to beat Carol up over my father’s casket– [laughter]
You know, just beat her to a pulp. When I turn around, my brother said later, “Pat, you missed it. Carol went down
on one knee in the pew.” Okay, translation time again,
ladies and gentlemen. She goes down on one knee, and there is a common, um–
expletive, in our language, never heard in Nashville, Tennessee, because of the religious nature of the city, but the first word begins with F,
and the second word begins with Y. [ laughter ] Carol goes down into a crouch, and begins shooting me the bird. [miming]
[laughter] And she’s shooting me the bird,
saying the “F-U” word out loud. [ laughter ] So later I said, “How many times–
how many birds did she shoot me?” [ laughter ] The lowest number was 50. The highest number was 200.
[laughter] I said, “Did anybody hear or see her?”
And my sister Cathy, thinking she’d make me feel better, said,
“Only about three quarters of the church saw it.” [ laughter ] But Ann, this is the kind of thing! You know, that haunts me and follows me,
and hunts me down, whether I want it to or not.>>Patchett: This is so confusing, though,
and this is your brilliance. You’re making us laugh.
You’re making us laugh. I laughed my head off through this book, and it is a tragedy.
I mean, it’s the saddest book in the world, and I was gasping, I was laughing so hard.>>Conroy: You see, Ann, I cannot… See, I tell you, these are horrible stories. You know, I had a brother commit suicide.
It was the worst thing that ever happened to us. He was youngest brother,
he was a paranoid schizophrenic. He leaps off a building, a 14-story building… in Columbia, South Carolina.
And he is a disaster, Ann. I mean, we have to bury him
almost the next day, because it’s the middle of August,
and his head is just– everything has come apart.
And they scrape him up. And we’ve got to get this thing together.
And my father– Dad, you know… He gets on the phone, and I said,
“Dad, are you okay?” My father, again, is crying so hard. And he says to me–
and this really broke my heart, Ann. He says, “Pat, I lost my baby boy.” “You don’t know what it’s like
’til you lose your baby.” “I remember Tom, when he first was born.” “I remember milking, and giving him milk at
night.” “I remember holding him,
because he was a sickly child.” “I’d walk the floor all night with Tom.”
And so Dad– we get down there. It’s– we have another funeral. Everybody says, oh God.
What is going to happen now? But what could happen?
So, I get to the funeral. Carol… realizes she’s not a pallbearer. And she screams at us,
“You– my sexist pig brothers!” “My horrible, patriarchal brothers!
Women: you hate us all!” “You despise us all!
Why do you do this to women?” Okay. We can’t get– good gosh,
Carol, let’s discuss feminism before we get Tom into the grave. And she says, “I will be the one,
the head pallbearer.” Poor Bobby Joe, the redneck, gets kicked off.
[laughter] And she says, “My shrink, Naoko,
has told me the Conroys are a toxic family, and I should have nothing to do with them.”
I said, “Oh, Naoko. What a genius.” [laughter] I’ve made millions of dollars
off the fact that we do have a toxic family. So we go in, and she says,
“I will not sit with my family.” “I will sit with the pallbearers.”
All right– I sit by Dad during the whole thing. He’s broken.
He is a broken man, Ann Patchett. It is pathetic.
He is crying so hard doing this. I’m squeezing his shoulders,
I’m doing everything we can. My youngest sister’s wiping his face. Tears streaming down–
Now, Uncle Jim– My priest, Dad’s brother, comes out. He looks down, and he says,
“Today, ladies and gentlemen, we have gathered together in celebration
of the life and death–” And he looks down, and he says,
“Timothy Conroy.” Tom killed himself. Tim was sitting behind me. [ muted laughter ] So I lean back, and I say, “Tim–” [ raucous laughter ] “I’m so sorry you’re dead.” [more laughter]
“I heard it was Tom.” Okay– and meanwhile,
my sister Carol has been crying so hard. And Carol keeps telling us, Ann–
the whole time over– “Tom was the only sane member
of the Conroy family.” “He’s the only one that was sane.
If we were sane, we would all do what Tom did.” “And we would all have held hands
and jumped together.” I’m thinking, seven kids, leaping from a building,
[laughter] in Columbia, in a daisy chain?
This is going to be– [laughter] So anyway, Carol has collected tissue. It’s disgusting, when she got there
from New York. It’s tennis-ball-sized.
So I said, “Carol–” and I bring over the trash can–
“Would you like to put this in?” “No, my tears to Tom are sacred to me.” “These are a poet’s tears.
This is a poet’s grief.” [laughter] Now Ann, make up a scene like this for fiction.
>>Patchett: No, thank you. No. [laughter] Wouldn’t touch it.
>>Conroy: Just make one up for me.>>Patchett: Wouldn’t, wouldn’t touch it.
>>Conroy: Okay, so I’m looking– she says, “My grief, my poet’s grief, is contained
in this ball of tissue, which I shall hold sacred.” All right– we get there.
We have two days to the funeral. It’s building. It is building. [laughter] Okay, Carol announces to everybody,
we cannot tell anybody that Tom had a mental illness.
“If anybody says this, I will scream.” “I will choke them,
I will murder them in the church.” My poor uncle is still up there,
talking about my brother Tim’s suicide. [ laughter ] And he said, “Now, Tim was a good boy. Although he did have
quite a few mental problems. [ laughter ] Okay– I’m looking across–
Now, the town has come out for Tom. It’s very nice.
And when he said, “mental problems,” I see that– [miming tissue ball]
It’s now the size of a softball. [laughter] I see that tissue hurled up into the air. I see– I look up and I see
my brothers and sisters going– [looking up] [ laughter ] And my brother Jim goes nuts, Ann. He says, “Who’s throwing the damn softball
during Tom’s funeral?” [ laughter ] So– and I’m saying– I say, “Jim, relax.
We’ll get through this, don’t worry about this.” Poor Uncle Jim is going through. And he said, “Tom went
to the University of Southern Colorado, and did very–”
University of South Carolina. [laughter]>>Patchett: He got the initials right.
>>Conroy: (laughing) We go through this, and then–
he comes back, and he says, “In my parish, in Davenport, Iowa, I feed–
every day I feed the poor, and the mentally ill.” [ whistling ] [ laughter ] Okay, this thing goes up–
this time, twice as high. And I see– it’s a longer arc of people looking… [ laughter ] watching it come down. All right, I’m praying for this funeral
to be over, by this time. Carol gets up to read a poem, Ann.
It’s a lovely poem. It’s a beautiful poem.
She’s a great poet. She reads the poem, but of course
she’s irritated with the family by then. My brother Jim announces
to the family as she’s walking down, “I know why Tom killed himself now.” [ laughter ] “He always hated crappy poetry.” [ laughter ] The priest comes back up– Dad is crying; he’s weeping so hard. The priest comes back up, and he says, “Even my brother Jim, or brother Jack,
is a paranoid schizophrenic, and has the worst mental illness I have ever
seen.” [subdued laughter] With this, the final heave, and it is– It nearly hits the roof.
It goes up, and I look back at the audience– The entire audience in Beauford is going
[ looking up ] [ laughter ] A year ago in Publix, in Beauford, a lady stopped me and said,
“Pat, I don’t want to get too personal,” “but could you tell me who was throwing
the softball during Tom’s funeral?” [ raucous laughter ]>>Patchett: Do you realize
once this book comes out, no one’s ever going to put that
on the front of a sentence? No one’s ever going to say,
“Pat, this might be too personal.” [laughter] Okay, I got– you know, I’m like on
the second card here. I got a lot of really good questions.
One, in this book, where you are… So honest.
So hard on everyone, and especially on yourself. And you turn your own sins over
before anyone else’s. The omission is Prince of Tides. That kind of, like– that’s been edited out. Talk about that. Because, boy, Carol–
>>Conroy: Okay.>>Patchett: I think Carol is
really pissed off about The Prince of Tides.>>Conroy: Okay. I, of course,
am going to use language so obscene–>>Patchett: [laughing] I live here!
>>Conroy: A– a religious city, as Nashville.>>Patchett: I– I can say that, yeah. Sorry.
>>Conroy: That’s quite all right.>>Patchett: I’m in a high school, too. [laughter]
>>Conroy: Carol was enraged by The Prince of Tides.
And, I did not see– I’d say, “Carol, if you re-read
The Prince of Tides, I have you as a great poet.” “I have you as an honored poet.” “I have you as a poet who is famous
in New York City.” “Also, to protect myself, I made sure that you were in a coma for the entire book.” [ raucous laughter ] “And I thought this would be self-protection.” Carol always has this thing–
and it’s a legitimate argument. Ann, I would love to see Carol
write a book, giving her side of this story. I would pay for that book.
I would love to read it. Because when I tell you she’s smart,
I tell you she’s talented, tell you she’s gifted– It’s more than that.
She was the most precocious kid I’ve ever met in my life.
I mean, this was– this little kid, marvelling at– She was five years old,
the same girl from The Prince of Tides. Five years old, comes up to me and says, “Pat, I’ve noticed something.”
I said, “What’s that, Carol?” And she always seemed older than me.
I said, “What’s that, Carol?” “Our parents are nuts.” [ laughter ] You know, I’m seven.
I said, “Oh, not Mommy and Daddy!”>>Patchett: [laughing]
>>Conroy: And I did all the stuff a seven-year-old boy would do…
And she said, “Nah. I’ve looked at television.” “Father Knows Best, I’ve looked
at all these things. Leave It To Beaver.” And she said,
“Do you see the way they treat each other?” “They’re nice to each other.
Nice to their kids.” “You don’t see their mother flying through
a plate glass window at the end of an evening.” And she said, “You watch.
They’re going to turn out to be nuts.” Then, she said something else:
“It’s going to hurt us.” And she was perfectly right. Prince of Tides, it pained me, because she said she wouldn’t read it. Her friends– she has big-shot friends in Atlanta,
in New York, that wrote me the meanest letters you’ve ever heard. But, I’ve always been afraid to talk
about The Prince of Tides, One, because it was the
most successful book I’ll ever have.>>Patchett: This one might be.
You might outdo yourself.>>Conroy: You know, success in my family– is you’re not supposed to
act like you’re successful at all. When I go up to Chicago,
there’ll be the Chicago relatives in line. 300-lb nun, Sister Marge, will be there–
[subdued laughter] She’ll be in the back of the line.
She’ll say– here’s what you get. In a normal life?
This happens to me every time I go to Chicago. I don’t– never tell them I’m coming.
They find out. Sister Marge–
I’ll hear her voice, and she’ll say, “Hey Patty boy!”
>>Patchett: [giggling]>>Conroy: “It’s your virgin aunt!” [ raucous laughter ]>>Patchett: There’s an image for you, huh?
>>Conroy: [exasperated sigh] And they just all seemed mean to me,
when I was growing up! And my southern relatives seemed
like the nicest people on earth. I never saw the Chicago people. Uncle Jim, who thought Tim had killed himself?
Could not pick us out of a police lineup. He had no idea who I– who we were. But, Prince of Tides has always been both
a glory in my soul and a great wound. Because I don’t think I would have
written it if Mom had been alive.>>Patchett: Well, that’s an
interesting thing to think about, because– What if you had written
a version of this book, first? What if you had just told
the truth about your childhood, first? What would that have done to you as a writer?
As a novelist?>>Conroy: Okay, here’s what
would have happened. And I can answer this honestly, Ann…
Father Jim is at the podium. “We have come here to celebrate
the life and death of Pat Conroy.” [ laughter ] “He was killed by my brother,
who is now in federal penitentiary…” [subdued laughter]
“…in a fit of rage.” I could not have done it when I was younger.
I was still too full of denial I had to go through therapy. I had to find out
things about myself I did not know. I had to find out things about myself I hated. And, I couldn’t have written it then.
>>Patchett: Years ago, I was having lunch with Dorothy Allison,
and she was trying to write a book after Bastard Out of Carolina. And she said to me,
“I’m afraid that I only have one story to tell.” And at that moment,
I realized that I only had one story to tell, and that probably everybody
only has one story to tell. So, if you’ve got one story,
and you feel like this time– You know, you’ve been kind of coming at it
from a lot of different angles. And this time, you went straight down
into the middle, and blew it apart. Where does that leave you now?
>>Conroy: Well, here’s where it leaves me.>>Conroy: I’ve always wanted to–
>>Patchett: Microphone. [laughter]
[singing] Here’s where it leaves me.>>Conroy: I think to be corrected
by Ann Patchett is a beautiful thing. [laughter]>>Patchett: Only because we want to hear you!
>>Conroy: I understand, Ann. I’m kidding you. Here’s where it leaves me.
I’ve always wanted to write an Atlanta novel, because there’s not many of them.
>>Patchett: No. There’s one really big one. [laughter]
>>Conroy: When, I just think– these cities. I look around Nashville, and I– hmmm.
Yes, indeed.>>Patchett: We could use
a Pat Conroy Nashville novel. [ cheers and applause ]>>Conroy: Nashville– the only time
I’ve been to Nashville– If I wrote a novel about what I know, would be the sexual innuendo of Ingram Books,
and the wild and unspeakable women that I have met out there in the various books–
in my career.>>Patchett: We’ll talk about that backstage.
>>Conroy: Some of them are here tonight. [laughter]
>>Patchett: That’ll be entree nu. So, what next?>>Conroy: You know I think–
>>Patchett: Now you’ve done this. Now you’ve done the thing
that you’ve been angling around.>>Conroy: Here’s what I worry about now.
I heard this conversation– My children are now terrified. [laughter]
>>Patchett: That you’re coming for their stories?>>Conroy: Yeah. I haven’t written my kids yet.
>>Patchett: [drawn out] Wow.>>Conroy: I said,
“You remember your teenage years, girls.” >>Patchett: [in disbelief] Wow!
>>Conroy: I used to tell my girls. I said, “Girls, okay.
I’m not going to be very tough on you.” “I would like each one of you to date a guy… I don’t hate.” [laughter] That’s the only thing: the only rule I have. But you know, there’s so much to write about.
The friends you make. There’s the literary life.
I haven’t lived a very active one. But, it’s interesting to me.
People getting together, writing books. Conceiving books. Making careers. And as you know, it’s hard to make a career. It’s hard to make a career out of what you do,
and you love what you do. There’s– friends that I’ve made along the way.
>>Patchett: [softly] Yeah.>>Conroy: Their lives– I’d love to write
about some of those friends. Some of them, I would love to destroy their lives
as they are living it right now. [subdued laughter]
>>Patchett: And man, you could do it.>>Conroy: Eventually, I find life goes on
and keeps giving you material, over and over again.
>>Patchett: Thinking about what you just said about writing or not writing about your children:
You have said, rather famously –and no doubt this will be the quote
that will dog you all through book tour– that you don’t believe in happy families. If somebody says to you,
“I had a happy family,” you’ll say,
“Give me an hour and I’ll take it apart.” So, do you believe in happy people,
happy marriages, happy childhoods?>>Conroy: I believe there’s been
one happy marriage in America thus far. And I’m about to read about it in your new book.
[laughter]>>Patchett: Uh… it is, actually! It’s good.
>>Conroy: You know, it sounds cynical, Ann, and I know this. But when that story first came up
was when this beautiful couple came up to me. I think it was in Atlanta; I think it was in Rich’s. Okay– y’all know the type.
Take the handsomest fraternity boy. KA at Vanderbilt. Take the Tri Delt– the prettiest Tri Delt girl. Looking something like Ann Patchett, okay?
Give me a break. [laughter] Take these– this couple.
They come up to me in Atlanta. Prince of Tides has just come out, Ann. And they said– the guy says–
and the guy had this… I just met Ann’s husband.
He had this swanny-like arrogance to him. He comes up and he says,
“Hey Pat, your family’s crazy, aren’t they?” I said, “Yeah, yeah. They’re kind of crazy.” So I said, “How’s your family?”
“My family’s great.” Now, you think about–in this audience–
what you would say to me. “Oh, my family’s great. My family’s wonderful.
My family’s fabulous.” “My family’s perfect,” this guy says. I said, “Okay, pal. Let’s be honest.” “How far do I have to go to find
the first crazy in your family?” [laughter] Please, play this game along with me!
[louder laughter] [counting off] “Dad? Mom?” “Uncle? Aunt? Brother? Sister?” Now, usually, you know,
we hit paydirt somewhere in here. [ laughter ] But this poor, pretty woman,
this poor Tri Delt… breaks. And as I’m going through this little litany, she finally explodes, and she says,
“His mother’s nuts!” [ raucous laughter ] [ cheers and applause ] I know there are families that are not like this.
You know, because I’ve seen them. I’ve met them. But what I think families who are happy could do is they have much better coping mechanisms
than my family ever had. They have ways to get over things,
they have ways to argue which are healthy. Instead of– blood flying across the room, they have developed ways to make themselves– if not deleriously happy, content,
and perfectly content in what they have.>>Patchett: You said–
in the middle of this interview, you said, “When my father was dying,
the six of us worked out shifts, so we would all be there,
because we loved him, and we wanted him to be comfortable.”>>Conroy: Well, we had some moments
where Dad would yell at us during that.>>Patchett: But you loved him,
and you wanted him to be comfortable.>>Conroy: Yeah, yeah, we did.
Mike broke once, taking care of him. Mike had forgotten to get him a morphine pill. Dad was hurting.
Mike was fumbling; Dad was cussing at Mike. Mike, before he gives him the morphine pill,
goes over and says, “That’s what you get for beating
Mom and the kids when we were small.” “Now do you want the morphine, Dad?”
So Dad, of course, said, “Yes.” But basically, we had come to love the guy.
We did.>>Patchett: So did we, you know?
That’s what you did to the readers. It’s because you have compassion. What you impart to us is your compassion, which is what beams out of you here, and in everything you write.
You have compassion… for all of us. [ applause ] A lot of people don’t, you know? To me, that’s…
That is the real version of happiness. To be able to look at someone, and say,
“I see you completely for what you are, and what you’ve done,
and I still want to be there when you die. I still want to hold you.
I still am going to love you. That’s a version of happiness that is… profound. That’s what you really get in this book. Which is why we’re going to end here,
and you’re all going to line up and buy it. [ subdued laughter ] And you’re going to get signed copies
for your friends for Christmas. It’s a brilliant achievement,
and I’m proud to know you. [ applause ]