Water is Wide (Conroy)

The Water is Wide
Pat Conroy, 1972
Random House
304 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780553381573

Summary
The island is nearly deserted, haunting, beautiful. Across a slip of ocean lies South Carolina. But for the handful of families on Yamacraw island, America is a world away. For years the people here lived proudly from the sea, but now its waters are not safe. Waste from industry threatens their very existence—unless, somehow, they can learn a new life. But they will learn nothing without someone to teach them, and their school has no teacher.

Here is Pat Controy's extraordinary drama based on his own experience—the true story of a man who gave a year of his life to an island and the new life its people gave him. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—October 26, 1945
Where—Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Education—B.A., The Citadel
Currently—lives in San Francisco, California, and Fripp
   Island, South, Carolina


Pat Conroy was born in Atlanta, Georgia, to a young career military officer from Chicago and a Southern beauty from Alabama, whom Pat often credits for his love of language. He was the first of seven children.

His father was a violent and abusive man, a man whose biggest mistake, Conroy once said, was allowing a novelist to grow up in his home, a novelist "who remembered every single violent act... my father's violence is the central fact of my art and my life." Since the family had to move many times to different military bases around the South, Pat changed schools frequently, finally attending the Citadel Military Academy in Charleston, South Carolina, upon his father's insistence. While still a student, he wrote and then published his first book, The Boo, a tribute to a beloved teacher.

After graduation, Conroy taught English in Beaufort, where he met and married a young woman with two children, a widow of the Vietnam War. He then accepted a job teaching underprivileged children in a one-room schoolhouse on Daufuskie Island, a remote island off the South Carolina shore. After a year, Pat was fired for his unconventional teaching practices—such as his unwillingness to allow corporal punishment of his students—and for his general lack of respect for the school's administration. Conroy evened the score when he exposed the racism and appalling conditions his students endured with the publication of The Water is Wide in 1972. The book won Conroy a humanitarian award from the National Education Association and was made into the feature film Conrack, starring Jon Voight.

Writings
Following the birth of a daughter, the Conroys moved to Atlanta, where Pat wrote his novel, The Great Santini, published in 1976. This autobiographical work, later made into a powerful film starring Robert Duvall, explored the conflicts of his childhood, particularly his confusion over his love and loyalty to an abusive and often dangerous father.

The publication of a book that so painfully exposed his family's secret brought Conroy to a period of tremendous personal desolation. This crisis resulted not only in his divorce but the divorce of his parents; his mother presented a copy of The Great Santini to the judge as "evidence" in divorce proceedings against his father.

The Citadel became the subject of his next novel, The Lords of Discipline, published in 1980. The novel exposed the school's harsh military discipline, racism and sexism. This book, too, was made into a feature film.

Pat remarried and moved from Atlanta to Rome where he began The Prince of Tides which, when published in 1986, became his most successful book. Reviewers immediately acknowledged Conroy as a master storyteller and a poetic and gifted prose stylist. This novel has become one of the most beloved novels of modern time—with over five million copies in print, it has earned Conroy an international reputation. The Prince of Tides was made into a highly successful feature film directed by Barbra Streisand, who also starred in the film opposite Nick Nolte, whose brilliant performance won him an Oscar nomination.

Beach Music (1995), Conroy's sixth book, was the story of Jack McCall, an American who moves to Rome to escape the trauma and painful memory of his young wife's suicidal leap off a bridge in South Carolina. The story took place in South Carolina and Rome, and also reached back in time to the Holocaust and the Vietnam War. This book, too, was a tremendous international bestseller.

While on tour for Beach Music, members of Conroy's Citadel basketball team began appearing, one by one, at his book signings around the country. When his then-wife served him divorce papers while he was still on the road, Conroy realized that his team members had come back into his life just when he needed them most. And so he began reconstructing his senior year, his last year as an athlete, and the 21 basketball games that changed his life. The result of these recollections, along with flashbacks of his childhood and insights into his early aspirations as a writer, is My Losing Season, Conroy's seventh book and his first work of nonfiction since The Water is Wide.

South of Broad, published in 2009, 14 years after Beach Music, tells the story of friendships, first formed in high school, that span two decades.

He currently lives in Fripp Island, South Carolina with his wife, the novelist Cassandra King. (Adapted from the author's website and Barnes & Noble.)



Book Reviews
He's not much of a stylist and his sense of humor needs work, but pat Conroy has a nice, wry perspective and a wholehearted commitment to his job. It's a hell of a job and The Water is Wide is a hell of a good story....Mr. Conroy's modesty will not allow him to claim much for his year at Yamacraw, but he...opened [his pupils'] minds to an outer world they had never even conceived of. And, most memorable of all, he taught them to trust a white man and to believe that he cared about them.
Anatole Broyard - New York Times


Pat Conroy cuts through his experiences with a sharp edge of irony.... He brings emotion, writing talent and anger to his story.
Baltimore Sun


This is not a funny book, but you will find yourself in belly-heaving laughter; this is not a sentimental book, but you will weep; this is not an angry book, but you will shiver with antagonism at man's inhumanity to man; this is not a pretty book, but you will be haunted by some of its passages.... The Water Is Wide is a great book.
Charleston Evening Post


A powerfully moving book...You will laugh, you will weep, you will be proud and you will rail...and you will learn to love the man.
Charleston News and Courier


Compelling storytelling...Conroy takes aim at our darkest emotions, lets the arrow fly and hits a bull's eye almost every time.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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Discussion Questions
1. How might Pat Conroy have handled the conflict with Bennington and Piedmont differently? In what ways was the outcome a foregone conclusion?

2. If Mrs. Brown was ashamed to be black, why did she teach on Yamacraw? Were there any instances when you thought Pat should have listened to her?

3. To what extent have we moved beyond the racism and segregation of the 1960s, in society and in our schools? How far do we still have to go?

4. Would today’s litigation-obsessed society allow teachers to do the things that Pat does for his students? Why or why not?

5. How has modernization affected other rural or remote places like Yamacraw?

6. Conroy uses some unorthodox teaching methods with his students. Are they effective? Why or why not? How would they work today in our educational culture of testing and accountability?

7.Why is it so important to Conroy that the children see and experience the outside world? If you were to design a field trip for them, where would you take them and why?

8.Trace the evolution of Conroy’s racial views and attitudes throughout the book. What are key events in that evolution?

9. While he could and did have an impact on the children’s lives, what might he or others have done to improve the lives of the adults on Yamacraw?

10. Politicians and the press often like to blame the ills of public education on teachers. To what extent is poor teaching responsible for those ills? What other factors are involved, and how might those be remedied?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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