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Pat Conroy Contest Week 3: Relationships in Southern Writing

Posted: Sep 23, 2009

The Pat Conroy Contest  enters week three on September 23. There are some great posts on the Writers of the South Facebook page.  

As a help and reminder to non-essay writing entrants, we've assembled all the entries from  Week 1's topic of "fate" and Week 2's topic of "family" if you have not read them. In addition to those that are writing weekly essay entries, others are also eligible to win a copy of South of Broad by commenting on these essays.  

To review, two copies of South of Broad will be awarded (a total of eight books in four weeks) for the two best responses to that week's topic posted on the Writers of the South. As explained in the previous paragraph, Swampland will also award several books for those who participate actively in the dialogue, both on Writers of the South and Swampland. The contest will end at midnight on October 6. The final topic will be announced on September 30. 

You can also review the rules here.

The first week we talked about fate or destiny in the works of Pat Conroy, the second week the topic was family in southern literature, and this week the topic is relationships in southern literature---both those that are thrust upon us by an accident of birth and those we choose or that "fate" chooses for us.

The south has almost always been a class and caste bound society.  The earliest writings in the south belonged exclusively to the landed gentry-- the aristocratic, educated class. It was not until just before the Civil War when such journalists as George Washington Harris and Augustus Longstreet burst irreverently upon the formal literary scene that the literature of the south was infused with new blood.

After 1886, non-blood relationships (i.e., friendships) that cut across the boundaries of class and caste appeared as a prevailing theme in the literature of the south. Prior to the publication of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, friendships that broke the taboo of class and caste were rare in southern literature. William Byrd wrote fondly of his men in his record of the Dividing Line Expedition (1728), but they were clearly just his men, not his friends. They did not belong to his class. Nor did the Indians to whom he was cordial but whom he viewed with indulgent disdain.

When Mark Twain's character Huckleberry Finn decides he will "go to hell" by befriending the runaway black man Jim, Twain makes a pivotal contribution to Southern literature. Since the barriers of caste are even stronger than those of class, even a drunken derelict (Huck's father Pap Finn) considered himself superior to a black man. Twain demonstrates that Pap is no fit father and that fatherhood means more than blood. A father is a man who behaves like a true father. Biology does not determine paternity. Jim is far more of a father to Huck than is Pap Finn.

Pat Conroy takes friendship to a new level in South of Broad. Here is a novel that is not so much about family as it is about friendships---friendships that transcend the bond of blood. Leo's friends are a motley crew of social outcasts and their friendship flourishes for decades.

The following quote is from the Barnes and Noble review of South of Broad: "The ties among them [Leo and his friends} endure for years, surviving marriages happy and troubled, unrequited loves and unspoken longings, hard-won successes and devastating breakdowns, and Charleston's dark legacy of racism and class divisions. But the final test of friendship that brings them to San Francisco is something no one is prepared for. South of Broad is Pat Conroy at his finest; a long-awaited work from a great American writer whose passion for life and language knows no bounds."

TOPIC for Week Three of the Pat Conroy Contest: RELATIONSHIPS in the literature of the south

Post approximately 100 words about what you have discovered about relationships (especially friendship) from southern literature. You may include blood as well as non-blood relationships in the literature of the south. Post your entry on the wall of the Writers of the South Facebook page. You may illustrate your point(s) from any work or works of southern literature. You need not restrict your references to the writings of Pat Conroy. When you compose your entry, it would be helpful if you began with the words Pat Conroy Contest Week 3 or Week 2 etc so we can be certain which topic you are discussing.

I hope to see your entry on the wall this week. Good luck.

Postscript---Last month Pat Conroy spoke in Birmingham, Alabama, along with his wife, novelist Cassandra King, and his friend Rick Bragg. Hundreds of people were unable to get tickets due to of lack of space. The owner of the Alabama Booksmith declared "Next time we'll have it [the reading] at Legion Field. Did you ever think people would be scalping tickets to a literary event in Alabama?" 

You can see the videos on YouTube. This link begins with Pat Conroy (#6).

---Penne J. Laubenthal

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