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Pfeiffer Friends begin book club, offer Zoom with Cassandra King Conroy

Pfeiffer University’s Friends of the Library will convene, via Zoom, the first Monday of each month.

Cassandra King Conroy’s memoir “Tell Me a Story: My Life With Pat Conroy” will be the club’s first featured book. Discussion will begin at 7 p.m. Feb. 1. Future books will be announced at the end of each meeting. There is no cost to participate, but registration is required.

The book club “is planning to continue virtually every month, allowing alumni to participate, regardless of where they live,” said Tonya Judge, Pfeiffer’s Director of Alumni and Community Engagement. “Hopefully, by the end of the year, your bookshelf will be brimming with new picks from well-known and emerging authors that improve your life in some way. We ask that you share news of the book club’s formation with friends so you can enjoy each month’s favorite new read together.”

As a bonus, Cassandra King Conroy will introduce “Tell Me a Story” at 11 a.m. April 22 during a free Zoom presentation of Pfeiffer University’s Friends of the Library annual spring luncheon. (Note: This will replace Conroy’s previously scheduled engagement at Pfeiffer, which was cancelled last spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Shortly before Pat Conroy, the celebrated author of bestsellers like “The Great Santini” and “The Prince of Tides,” died in 2016 of pancreatic cancer, his wife promised him she would go back to writing after he was gone. Cassandra King Conroy — an award-winning author of essays, articles, and such novels as “Making Waves,” “The Sunday Wife” and “Queen of Broken Hearts” — did just that. She also continued work on a cookbook that combined recipes with light-hearted stories that reflected the Conroys’ love of food, cooking and entertaining guests in their South Carolina home.

Such a project would be limited in scope, a therapeutic way for Cassandra to work through the grief of losing Pat, whom she married in 1998 after a three-year courtship. Instead, as work on the cookbook progressed, the “whole story” about her life with Pat “kept coming out,” she said. “I felt compelled to tell it.”

The cookbook gave way to a memoir: “Tell Me a Story: My Life With Pat Conroy” (William Morrow, 2019).

“I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from this book, as you might imagine,” Cassandra said. “Almost everyone has said that they felt they knew Pat from reading his works. They saw from my account of my time with him that he was pretty much like you would think he would be in his books.”

One of Pat’s longtime admirers emailed Cassandra that she was hesitant to read “Tell Me a Story,” fearing that he would not come across in the memoir as she had perceived him to be. She read the memoir anyway — and was happy to find a funny, generous and larger-than-life personality.

A male reader of “Tell Me a Story” thought the book might come across as sappy. Instead, “he thought it was extremely balanced, that it showed him to be as complex and as complicated as you would sort of expect,” Cassandra said. “Pat was deeply wounded from the trauma of his childhood and from a lot of experiences later in life as well.”

Cassandra met Pat in 1995, at a party for a writers’ conference in Birmingham, Alabama. At the time, they were at radically different points in their careers. Pat had already reached the pinnacle of the writing profession; Cassandra was about to make her debut as a novelist.

A relationship would bloom anyway. It “came about because we found we were in the same place, emotionally and in our life experiences,” Cassandra said. Both in their early 50s, they had each raised children and were getting over failed marriages.

Pat “was in a really bad place,” Cassandra said. “He was so much in demand, giving these talks and going from one event to another. He was emotionally and physically exhausted. Subconsciously, I think, he was looking for a safe harbor and I felt he found that in me and our relationship.”

In time, Cassandra would also find a safe harbor in Pat — which, she said, “sounds very contradictory because he had had two failed marriages and a lot of failed relationships. He was not exactly material for safety or refuge or anything like that.” Cassandra’s reluctance to get involved with Pat began to weaken as she got to know him better. This meant looking under the surface of a man who came across as “this dynamo who was so intense.”

As readers of “Tell Me a Story” will learn, there “was a sweet, gentle person who was under that surface, under that persona,” she said.

Visit community.pfeiffer.edu/folspring2021 to register for the free event with Cassandra King Conroy.

To register for Friends of the Library Book Club meetings, go to https://community.pfeiffer.edu/fol-bc or contact Tonya Judge at 704-463-3038 or tonya.judge@pfeiffer.edu, subject line: book club.