Pat Conroy spoke to an overflow audience of more than 1100 as he accepted the 2003 Thomas Wolfe Prize in Hill Hall Auditorium on October 7. For Conroy, the award honoring one of UNC-Chapel Hill's most famous literary alums (1920) was satisfying in a deeply personal way. He credits his first teenage reading of Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel (1929) as an event that set him on course to become a writer: "I learned from . . . Thomas Wolfe: A book can change your life and change it forever."
Conroy identified with Wolfe's account of growing up in a household of fear and abuse. And he learned from Wolfe the path of writing his way out of his past: "Thomas Wolfe had taken this great pain and turned it into good art."
The annual Thomas Wolfe Lecture and Prize honors authors who have made significant contributions to writing in the humanities and whose works befit the ambition and scope shown by that of Wolfe. Conroy is an apt recipient for more than his personal ties to Wolfe. As Wolfe, Conroy writes in a rich, generous prose style, producing works that address issues of anger, love, hatred, and redemption.
His best selling novels include The Great Santini (1976), The Lords of Discipline (1980), The Prince of Tides (1986), and Beach Music (1995). Several of his novels have been made into major motion pictures. Conroy's most recent work is My Losing Season, a non-fiction account of his years on the basketball team at the Citadel.
While here to receive the prize and deliver the Thomas Wolfe Lecture, Conroy also met with Lawrence Naumoff's and Daniel Wallace's fiction writing classes and with the creative writing faculty.
Hannah Poston, Thomas Wolfe Scholar, Class of 2007, also had the opportunity to meet and talk with Conroy. The Thomas Wolfe Scholarship is a four-year award offering full support for outstanding young writers, one entering freshman each year, who will minor in Creative Writing at Carolina. The first Wolfe Scholar is Caitlin Doyle, Class of 2006, and the third is Andrew Chan, Class of 2008.
The Thomas Wolfe Lecture and Prize are sponsored by The Thomas Wolfe Society, the Department of English, and the Morgan Writer-in-Residence Program. Past winners are Tom Wolfe (2000), Larry Brown (2001), and Elizabeth Spencer (2002).