2023 Festival Presenters

The Pat Conroy Literary Festival’s list of scheduled presenters (in order of their presentation) is subject to change without notice, but every effort will be made to announce changes through the this festival’s website and Facebook feed

Valerie Sayers

Valerie Sayers is the author of a collection of stories, The Age of Infidelity, and six novels, including her most recent, The Powers. Who Do You Love and Brain Fever were both named New York Times “Notable Books of the Year, and a film, “Due East,” was based on her novels Due East and How I Got Him Back. Sayers’s stories, essays, and reviews have appeared widely, in such publications as the New York Times, Washington Post, Commonweal, Zoetrope, and Ploughshares, and have been cited in Best American Short Stories and Best American Essays. Her literary prizes include a National Endowment for the Arts literature fellowship and two Pushcart Prizes for fiction. She serves on the board of directors of the Pat Conroy Literary Center and is honored to be a member of the South Carolina Academy of Authors, the Palmetto State’s literary hall of fame.

Sean Scapellato

Sean A. Scapellato is a member of the Board of Directors of the nonprofit Pat Conroy Literary Center. He was a friend and devoted fan of Pat Conroy for over 20 years. His own writing has been published in various journals and anthologies over several decades. Most recently, he contributed to Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy. Before that, he was a finalist in the Novello Festival Press’s First Novel Contest, a Charleston finalist in the Turner South contest “My South Speaks” as well as a selected participant in the Charleston “Listen to Your Mother” story event. Once a creative writing teacher at Charleston County School of the Arts, a place where he helped dozens of students win regional and national writing awards, he is now a full-time attorney in Mt. Pleasant, who still manages to get his pages in on weekends.

Ron Rash

Ron Rash is the author of the PEN/Faulkner finalist and New York Times bestselling novel Serena, in addition to the critically acclaimed novels The RisenAbove the WaterfallThe CoveOne Foot in EdenSaints at the River, The World Made Straight, and, most recently, The Caretaker. He is also the author of five collections of poems and seven collections of stories, among them Burning Bright, which won the 2010 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, Nothing Gold Can Stay, a New York Times bestseller, and Chemistry and Other Stories, which was a finalist for the 2007 PEN/Faulkner Award. Three times the recipient of the O. Henry Prize, his books have been translated into seventeen languages. He teaches at Western Carolina University.

Freya Manfred

Freya Manfred is a poet, memoirist, and teacher. She is the author of ten books of poetry, including Swimming with A Hundred Year Old Snapping Turtle, Speak, Mother and Loon in Late November Water, which The Minneapolis Star and Tribune praised for her ability to “confronts aging while celebrating poetry as an accessible and practical tool for living.” Her poems have appeared in more than 100 reviews and magazines. Freya has received a Harvard/Radcliffe Fellow in Poetry Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, a Minnesota Poetry Award. She has been a Resident Fellow at Yaddo, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and the MacDowell Colony. She is also the author of the memoirs Frederick Manfred: A Daughter Remembers and Raising Twins: A True Life Adventure. She lives in Stillwater, MN, with her husband, screenwriter Thomas Pope.

Mary Kay Andrews

Mary Kay Andrews is The New York Times bestselling author of The Beach House Cookbook and more than twenty novels, including The Weekenders, Ladies’ Night, Spring FeverSummer Rental, The Fixer Upper, Deep Dish, Blue Christmas, Savannah Breeze, Hissy Fit, Little Bitty Lies, Savannah Blues, and, most recently, Bright Lights, Big Christmas. A former journalist for The Atlanta Journal Constitution, she lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Victoria Benton Frank

Victoria Benton Frank was born in New York City, raised in Montclair, New Jersey, but considers herself to have dual residency in the Lowcountry. She is a graduate of the College of Charleston and the French Culinary Institute. Victoria worked in restaurants in New York before returning to Charleston, which she considers home, with her husband, two kids, and a giant mutt. When she isn’t writing, she is reading, cooking, or chasing her children. Published in June of this year, My Magnolia Summer is her debut novel.

Mary Alice Monroe

Mary Alice Monroe is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty-seven books, including the bestselling The Beach House series and its most recent novel, The Summer of Lost and Found. Monroe also writes children’s picture books, and a middle grade fiction series called The Islanders. She was inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors’ Hall of Fame, and her books have received numerous awards, including the South Carolina Center for the Book Award for Writing; the South Carolina Award for Literary Excellence; the SW Florida Author of Distinction Award; the RT Lifetime Achievement Award; the International Book Award for Green Fiction; the Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award; and her novel, A Lowcountry Christmas, won the prestigious Southern Prize for Fiction. The Beach House was adapted as a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie starring Andie MacDowell. She is the cocreator of the weekly web show and podcast Friends & Fiction. Monroe is also an active conservationist and serves on several boards. She lives on the South Carolina coast, which is a source of inspiration for many of her books.

Cassandra King

Cassandra King is an award winning and bestselling novelist whose fiction has won the hearts of readers everywhere, especially in the American south. Often told in first person, her novels portray strong and memorable characters who struggle with the same timely issues and dilemmas that readers face in their own lives. Before becoming an author, she has taught creative writing on the college level, conducted corporate writing seminars, and worked as a human interest reporter. The widow of acclaimed author Pat Conroy, Cassandra resides in Beaufort, South Carolina, where she is honorary chair of the Pat Conroy Literary Center.

Carrie Feron

Carrie Feron is the newly named Executive Editor of Fiction at Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster . She previously worked at Morrow/Avon, where she published more than 30 New York Times bestselling authors. Her legions of loyal writers—many of whom she has worked with for more than 25 years—include Meg Cabot, Deborah Crombie, Christine Feehan, Dorothea Benton Frank, Sunny Hostin, Eloisa James, Faye Kellerman, Lisa Kleypas, Laura Lippman, Sarah MacLean, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Julie Quinn, and Nora Roberts. She has edited at least one winner of every major mystery and romance award (Edgar, Anthony, Agatha, Shamus, RITA), and she herself has won multiple industry awards.

Tom Pope

Thomas Pope has worked as a screenwriter on projects for Francis Ford Coppola, Ridley Scott, Barry Levinson, Penny Marshall, Frank Oz, Robert Redford, Wim Wenders, and many others. He wrote Lords of Discipline, The Manitou, Sweet Land, and Hammett, and was also a writer on Someone to Watch Over Me, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, F/X, and others. His book, Good Scripts, Bad Scripts, was a college text, and analyzes numerous successful and not so successful films that resulted from many successful and not so successful screenplays. He is also a frequent speaker at the International Conference on Screenwriting and the Los Angeles Screenwriting Expo.

Dr. Sean Heuston

Sean Heuston is a professor of English, fine arts, and communications at The Citadel, where he also directs the Summer in London Program. He is the author of numerous scholarly articles and of the book Modern Poetry and Ethnography: Yeats, Frost, Warren, Heaney, and the Poet as Anthropologist, named a Choice Distinguished Academic Title. He earned a B.A. in English from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; an M.A. in English from Stanford University; and a Ph.D. in English from Vanderbilt University. He has taught The Lords of Discipline at The Citadel for more than 20 years.

John Warley

John Warley is the award-winning author of seven books. His bestselling novel, A Southern Girl, was praised by his Citadel classmate Pat Conroy as “stylish as a novel by John Irving and as tightly written as one by John Grisham.” Warley’s history of his undergraduate alma mater, Stand Forever, Yielding Never: The Citadel in the 21st Century, led to his selection to write both the inscription for the college’s war memorial and “The Citadel at War,” a narrative history of the wars and conflicts in which Citadel alumni have made the ultimate sacrifice. NPR selected his essay “Lingering at the Doors” for publication in This I Believe on Fatherhood. A graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, he drew on decades of experience practicing law in writing his latest novel, A Jury of One.

Ron Tucker

Ron Tucker is president founder and co-director, with his wife Rebecca, of the Beaufort International Film Festival (BIFF), now going into its 18th year. When Tucker retired from the U.S. Marine Corps, he worked in public relations for many years before starting Sandbar Productions, which he created to offer location management services to film production companies that were shooting in Beaufort.

Jennifer Bartell Boykin

Poet Laureate of Columbia, South Carolina, and a 2023 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow, Jennifer Bartell Boykin is the author of Traveling Mercy (forthcoming from Finishing Line Press). Her poetry has appeared in ObsidianCallaloo, the Raleigh Reviewkinfolks: a journal of black expressionthe museum of americana: a literary review, and Scalawag. Bartell Boykin is the recipient of fellowships from Callaloo and The Watering Hole. She teaches creative writing and English dual-enrollment courses at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina, where she was named the 2019–20 Teacher of the Year. She is also an American Library Association Spectrum Scholar  and an Augusta Baker Scholar at the University of South Carolina’s School of Information Science, where she is pursuing her master of library and information science degree. Bartell Boykin was born and raised in Bluefield, a Black community in Johnsonville, South Carolina.

Mitchell Zuckoff

Mitchell Zuckoff is the Sumner M. Redstone Professor of Narrative Studies at Boston University’s College of Communication. The Secret Gate is Zuckoff’s ninth work of narrative nonfiction, including the #1 New York Times bestseller 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi, which became the basis of the Paramount Pictures movie of the same name. His previous books include the New York Times bestsellers Lost in Shangri-La, Frozen in Time, and Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11. As a member of the Boston Globe Spotlight Team, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting. Zuckoff’s honors include the Livingston Award for International Reporting, the Winship/PEN New England Award for Nonfiction, the Heywood Broun Memorial Award, and the Distinguished Writing Award from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and numerous other publications. He lives outside Boston with his family.

Sam Aronson

Samuel Aronson is a former U.S. diplomat and current global policy manager at Meta Platforms. His prior service at the U.S. Department of State included deploying on the elite team sent to Kabul, Afghanistan, in August 2021 to evacuate thousands of Americans and at-risk Afghans in the final weeks of the U.S. withdrawal. Aronson is the recipient of the State Department’s Award for Heroism, the National Intelligence Meritorious Unit Citation, and has twice received the Department’s Superior Honor Award. Originally from New Jersey, Sam and his family live in Washington, D.C.

Landon Thorne

Landon Thorne is a multi-lingual journalist, film producer, business leader, and pilot. A Yale graduate and Marine, he is an outdoorsman dedicated to historic preservation and nature conservation. Landon served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve retiring at the rank of Colonel. His military career included service in Vietnam, Africa, the Middle East, and diplomatic posting as Assistant Defense Attaché to Rome, Italy. Thorne has held seats on the boards of numerous businesses, governmental and charitable institutions, including serving on the board of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. He is a poet and op-ed writer on topics related to international policy and business.  He resides with his wife Leslie in the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Homeira Qaderi

Homeira Qaderi is an Afghan writer, activist, and educator, currently serving as a Robert G. James Scholar Fellow at Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Research at Harvard University. She has written seven books, including a collection of short stories and her acclaimed novel Noqra: The Daughter of Kabul River. Before leaving Afghanistan, Qaderi taught at Gharjistan University, in Kabul, and worked as a senior advisor to both the minister of education and, earlier, the minister of labor, social affairs, martyrs, and the disabled. A lifelong human rights activist, Qaderi was awarded the Malalai Medal—Afghanistan’s highest civilian honor—for exceptional bravery by the president of Afghanistan. She was a writer in residence at the University of Iowa in 2015. Her first book in English translation, Dancing in the Mosque: An Afghan Mother’s Letter to Her Son, was excerpted by the New York Times and chosen by Kirkus Reviews as one of the best nonfiction books of 2020.

Tim Conroy

Author of the collections A Theology of Terrain  and No True Route, Tim Conroy is a poet and former educator. His work has appeared in Fall Lines, Jasper Magazine, Marked by the Water, Sheltered, Twelve Mile Review, Poetry on the Comet, The Post and Courier, Ukweli: Searching for Healing Truth, and Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy. In 2022, he received the Broad River Prize for prose from Fall Lines, Volume IX. A founding board member of the Pat Conroy Literary Center established in his brother’s honor, Tim, and his wife Terrye, live in Dunedin, Florida.

Ellen Malphrus

Ellen Malphrus is a professor of English and the Writer in Residence at USC Beaufort, where she was honored as Professor of the Year in 2022. She is the author of the novel Untying the Moon and numerous poetry and prose pieces appearing in literary journals, scholarly journals, anthologies, and books including Poetry SouthHaight Ashbury Review, James Dickey ReviewSouthern Literary JournalWilliam & Mary Review, Review of Contemporary FictionWeber—the Contemporary West, and Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy.

Jeanne Meserve

Jeanne Meserve is an International Security Analyst for Canada’s CTV News, and is host of the NatSec Tech podcast for the Special Competitive Studies Project. She has been an anchor and correspondent for CNN and ABC News, winning two Emmy Awards, and an Edward R. Murrow Award. She also contributed to two CNN Peabody Awards for coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf Oil Spill, and anchored CNN’s award-winning coverage of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination and the death of Princess Diana.

Meserve moderates on a wide array of subjects for groups including AtlanticLIVE, the Munich Security Conference, the International Women’s Forum and many other organizations.

Meserve currently serves as a member of the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity, a bipartisan consortium of leaders from the US and Europe in the fields of politics, technology, media and business. The group works to identify emerging threats to free and fair elections, and develop strategies to mitigate them.

She is also a member of the Homeland Security Experts Group, serves on the board of directors of the Space Foundation, and is an honorary member of the Red Cross Tiffany Circle.

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks Meserve established the homeland security beat for CNN. On the ground in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, she was the first to report on the devastating flooding inundating portions of the city. Among her other assignments: the Washington snipers, the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping, and the Virginia Tech shootings. As State Department Correspondent for ABC News she reported from China, the Middle East and Europe.

Meserve received a B.A. in English Literature from Middlebury College, and is a recipient of the college’s Alumni Achievement Award.

Jeffrey Blount

Jeffrey Blount is the award-winning author of three novels, including The Emancipation of Evan Walls, winner of the 2020 National Indie Excellence Award for African American fiction, and the forthcoming Mr. Jimmy from Around the Way. He is also an Emmy award-winning television director and a 2016 inductee to the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame. During a 34-year career at NBC News, Jeffrey directed a decade of Meet the Press, the Today show, NBC Nightly News, and major special events. He is the first African- American to direct the Today show. Born and raised in Smithfield, Virginia, he now lives in Washington, DC.

Beaufort Mass Choir

The Beaufort Mass Choir was formed in 2008 and is made up of members from the Fellowship Concert Choir, which consists of various churches and religious affiliations in Beaufort and Islandton, South Carolina, the St. Paul Baptist Church Adult Choir, the Gullah Kinfolk, and members of the Unity Diversity Choir. The Beaufort Mass Choir has performed at many annual community and historical events. They are under the direction of Scott Allen Gibbs.