This was the year of celebrating Pat Conroy 70th birthday; the Festival was named “Pat Conroy at 70th”
In October 2016, under the auspices of University of South Carolina at Beaufort, and under the guidance of Jonathan Haupt, then festival director as well as University of South Carolina Press director, the Pat Conroy Literary Festival was inaugurated, with the help of Ellen Malphrus, festival deputy director and University of South Carolina Beaufort professor of English and Bonnie Hargrove, University of South Carolina Beaufort Center for the Arts executive director and dozens of volunteers. The festival was created to extend the remarkable conversations and experiences which began at the Pat Conroy at 70 festival and birthday celebration in 2015 and to continue honoring the writing life of the recently deceased and sorely missed Pat Conroy (October 26, 1945–March 4, 2016) in his adopted hometown of Beaufort, South Carolina by making the festival an annual event. The festival would highlight a different theme from Pat Conroy’s writing life each year. The 2016 festival theme was Place as Character and Muse in Southern Literature, a concept reflected in all 2016 year’s programs—and one that also honored the host city of Beaufort and the iconic Carolina Lowcountry which was Conroy’s home and inspiration.
It was at the end of the festival that Jane Upshaw, Chair of the recently formed Pat Conroy Literary Center board of directors, announced to a packed auditorium that the board of the Center had unanimously voted to offer Jonathan Haupt the position of the first Executive Director of the Pat Conroy Literary Center and that he had accepted the offer. Jonathan closed the 2016 festival before a cheering crowd.
Under Jonathan’s guidance, the Pat Conroy Literary Center, the festival’s new sponsor, expanded the circle of participants October 19-22, 2017 to include not only discussions of Southern literature and culture but, inspired by Pat’s love of teaching, a celebration of The Transformative Power of Education, the theme of the 2017 festival. Many fans, readers and writers who gathered in beautiful Beaufort for the immersive multi-day gathering featuring writer panels and book signings, live dramatic performances, film screenings, author lunches and receptions, readings, tours, an art exhibition, and a series of instructive workshops for writers.
The 2017 festival theme, the Transformative Power of Education, recalled Pat Conroy’s lines from The Prince of Tides (spoken by Tom Wingo and reverberating in Pat’s lowcountry heart as well):
“There is no word in the language I revere more than ‘teacher.’ My heart sings when a kid refers to me as his teacher, and it always has. I’ve honored myself and the entire family of man by becoming a teacher.”–The Prince of Tides