In contrast to recent and not-so-recent shutterings of Sears department stores, K-Marts, Sam’s Clubs and bookstore chains, libraries remain a relative constant in society.
They have evolved and adapted services to fit new needs, but ultimately serve the same purpose libraries always have.
Jonathan Haupt, executive director of the Pat Conroy Literary Center, summed that purpose up by saying “libraries anchor our lives and our communities as havens of free speech, intellectual discovery, and resource stewardship.” Haupt, while not a library professional himself, is something of an expert on the impact of libraries thanks in large part to his having known and been mentored by literary giant Pat Conroy.
Haupt’s relationship with Conroy lead to Haupt’s current position at the Literary Center, which was created to honor Conroy’s legacy after his death in 2016.
The same year, Haupt first gave the talk, "I Was Born to Be in a Library: Pat Conroy’s Great Love of Libraries," at the Friends of South Carolina Libraries annual meeting. After his talk, he was asked if he had an hour-long version to share with libraries throughout the state. “I immediately and convincingly said yes,” said Haupt. “When in truth I only had the 20 minutes they had just seen. But I was mentored by Pat Conroy, so I, too, tend to say yes to things and then figure out how to do them.”
Haupt has gone on to give his talk at dozens of libraries across South Carolina, at professional conferences, and as a lifelong learning course. It’s not the only touring lecture about aspects of Conroy’s writing, reading and teaching life that Haupt presents, but he “freely confesses” that it remains his favorite.
He will share it once again this week in Savannah at the Bull Street Library on Sept. 10. Through video clips, photographs, and published and unpublished writings by and about Conroy, the presentation welcomes attendees into the book-filled world of one of America’s most beloved writers.
One focus of the presentation will be Pat Conroy’s 2010 memoir "My Reading Life" that Haupt describes as “a big-hearted love letter to so many of the books that influenced him.” The book holds a special place in Haupt’s heart because, “it reminds me of my conversations with Pat about books, writers, teachers and family.”
Anyone who knows Conroy’s work knows that family, for better or ill, factors into his narratives. A large part of that can be attributed to Peggy Conroy, his mother.
When Conroy was 5 years old, his mother read Margaret Mitchell’s "Gone with the Wind" to him and his sister Carol as a bedtime story. Haupt mentioned, “Peggy would equate every character in the novel to a person in their lives. So Pat took away from this an absolute faith that there was a connection between art and life, that the written word and our own lived experiences were interwoven.”
Conroy had moved 23 times when he reached his junior year of high school. “It was access to public libraries that made possible the rich reading life of Pat’s mother and her children,” said Haupt.
He went on to state that Conroy wholeheartedly believed “the stories we create for and about ourselves are the bridges that forge connection and lead us toward transcendence. In that regard, libraries aren’t just vital spaces, they’re sacred spaces.”