Thursday, July 9, 2020

A New Pat Conroy Bio by Catherine Seltzer

This morning I read that Nan A. Talese, president, publisher & editorial director of her own imprint at Doubleday, announced she will retire at the end of the year after six decades in publishing.

The first thing that went through my mind was "I wonder if this somehow means we'll see Catherine Seltzer's Pat Conroy biography?"

I have no idea is Ms. Talese has had a thing in the world to do with Catherine Seltzer's Conroy bio, but I never see the name Nan Talese without thinking of Pat Conroy, and I know Dr. Seltzer has been working on that bio.  (this is all sort of like "give a mouse a cookie," isn't it?!).  

I learned about it when Donald and I went on one of our "Pat Conroy Road Trips" in 2015.

This one was in Columbia, SC, at the University of South Carolina.  

Catherine Seltzer and Pat Conroy opened the South Carolina Book Festival with an event.  An "Understanding Pat Conroy" conversation. 

Catherine Seltzer wrote "Understanding Pat Conroy."  It's an academic study of his work.  Not a biography, as they both stressed.

It was during this event that I learned that  Catherine Seltzer, with Pat Conroy's blessing, would be writing an unauthorized biography.  

Yes, you read that correctly.  


Because, as Pat Conroy explained, unauthorized means yes, he's allowing her to tell the story, with his blessing, that he feels deserves to be told.  

But, because it will be unauthorized, no one can step up and say "No.  You can't write that."  Unhappy friends and/or family members will just have to take it as it is.  Apparently, Mr. Conroy felt strongly about this and wanted the book to be an honest accounting, pulling no punches.

It was a fun event.  I always loved seeing Pat Conroy (as you well know if you visit Meanderings and Muses), and I miss him.

And I loved meeting Catherine Seltzer.  

It was easy to see the easy camaraderie they shared and a mutual admiration was evident.

And I've been wondering about that biography!


(It's taken me awhile to make my point, huh?  😵 )

After reading about Ms. Talese's retirement, I started my Googling search about Catherine Seltzer's unauthorized Pat Conroy bio, and this is what I found at the Marly Rusoff Literary Agency webpage:

Man on Fire

by Catherine Seltzer
Publisher Nan A. Talese Books/Knopf, 2019

"Pat Conroy once observed that Thomas Wolfe, one of his early literary heroes, “writes like a man on fire who does not have a clue how not to be on fire.” It’s a wonderful line, a visceral description of a performance in which the writer risks self-immolation in a reckless pursuit of his art.

It’s not a stretch to argue that Conroy’s appreciation of Wolfe’s work was rooted in a profound sense of sympathy: Pat Conroy, too, was a man on fire. His novels—which include The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, Beach Music, and South of Broad—and his autobiographical works—The Water is Wide, My Losing Season, and The Death of Santini, among them—have drawn a legion of loyal fans for both their unrestrained lyricism and their willingness to engage with the dangerous fires associated with emotional, domestic, and cultural truths. In his personal life, too, Conroy often was attracted to flame, committing himself fully to courses of action that would leave him singed if not scorched. Man on Fire: A Literary Biography of Pat Conroy, then, attempts to create a full portrait of Pat Conroy as both an ambitious writer who sought to chronicle his life and age, and as a complicated, at times enigmatic man who struggled to define himself within and outside of his art.

In many ways, Pat Conroy is already a familiar figure to a significant number of his readers. His novels all draw deeply from his own experiences, and Conroy explored his personal history in an equal number of explicitly autobiographical texts, including, most recently, The Death of Santini. As a result, the details of Conroy’s life—which include growing up with an abusive Marine father and a distant and manipulative mother; suffering brutal hazing at The Citadel, a private southern military college; and teaching in a two-room schoolhouse on a remote South Carolina barrier island during the Civil Rights Era—are well known to Conroy’s vast readership. Indeed, it’s fair to say that Conroy is not simply familiar to most of his fans, but almost familial to them. The novelist Carolyn See once confessed that although she had not met him, “I’ve always thought of Pat Conroy as a cousin or a brother or an uncle,” and this sense is broadly echoed among Conroy’s readership. He is “the cousin or brother or uncle” who has given voice to a shared history of family trauma, racial anxiety, and religious uncertainty, and the result is a connection between Conroy and his readership that is unprecedented. Man on Fire seeks not simply to illuminate the details of an already familiar life, then, but to add to this narrative by addressing the gaps—many crucial—that are the natural consequence of Conroy’s efforts to craft an engaging and coherent autobiography. (As Conroy himself explained, “I approach the art of memoir with an open heart, not [a] puritanical eye.”) Moreover, Man on Fire often complicates the existing narrative by introducing material from Conroy’s papers—unpublished journals, personal and professional correspondence, and draft manuscripts —as well as interviews with Conroy, his friends, his family, and his colleagues, texts and voices that dramatically enrich—and sometimes alter—an understanding of Conroy and his work."



No exact date, but it looks like we might be able to read it this year.

I'm a happy girl.

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