Readers packed Lewis Auditorium at Flagler College in St. Augustine this week to hear well-known author Pat Conroy along with Janis Owens, Bernie Schein, and Mark Powell. There were plenty of laughs as well as insights into the world of writing and publishing at this event sponsored by The Florida Heritage Book Festival.
Conroy is an accomplished storyteller whether writing a novel or relating an anecdote to a live audience. His most recent book is The Death of Santini: A Story of A Father and His Son. He’s proud to be known as a southern author, and in his work he unites people and place in a unique way.
Not long ago he was named editor-at-large with Story River Books, an imprint of South Carolina Press. This strengthens the university press commitment to publishing outstanding regional fiction. Conroy mentors and spotlights emerging writers. Learn more at www.sc.edu/uscpress/microsites/storyriver.
Three authors of note, friends and colleagues of Conroy, shared the stage with him.
Janis Owens is the author of the popular book The Cracker Kitchen: a Cookbook in Celebration of Cornbread-Fed, Down Home Family Stories and Cuisine. She also talked about her book American Ghost: A Novel. She lives in Newberry, Florida and knows small-town life, Alachua County and the Panhandle. I can’t wait to read these two books because of the excitement of her story and her pride in her home place.
Bernie Schein is a long time friend of Conroy. Both had early life experiences in South Carolina. Bernie’s remarks on small-town life were illuminating and funny. He has written a novel, Famous All Over Town, and now is writing a memoir. His Jewish heritage made him stand out in his hometown in South Carolina. He skillfully blends both the dark and the light sides of living into his story mix.
Mark Powell read a powerful and touching excerpt from his novel The Sheltering, just out this year from Story River Press. This story of a drone pilot and the contradictions of his life has received excellent reviews. It sounds like a gripping tale.
The banter among these four authors generated lots of fun. They talked about how ideas for stories start and about small town life, especially in the south. One insight concerning writing about community caught my attention, the idea that in a small town or tight-knit community everyone knows everyone in many different ways: whose car is parked behind the minister’s house, whose shoes are showing beneath the white sheet of a Klan member, whose mother used to be married to …… At the same time, there are secrets, things nobody knows or maybe only one or two people know. Those secrets often drive people’s lives and lead to more stories. This group knows how to tell those stories.
I’m off to the library to pick up some new books based on what I heard from these authors. Then, the bookstore. I’ll keep searching and learning more about the books this group has written. Small-town life is a particular interest of mine. I know Conroy’s work and now he is introducing us to other writers through public appearances and his work with Story River Books.
If Pat Conroy or any other of these authors is already a favorite of yours, let us know. Do you enjoy regional literature? Most of us like a good read no matter if it might be called regional literature or not. But a writer who knows how to make place come alive, how to make place the major character, how to make us feel like we’ve lived in that place and can see it’s beauty and its sorrow, that is special indeed.