Wednesday, April 06, 2005


Oh Oh Oh Frank Conroy, for longer than I can remember paterfamilias of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, has died. We all knew he was failing, but the shock of his sudden absence from our world, is hard to take. After losing Don Justice, one of America's finest poets and a deeply bright and original person, the writing community of Iowa City has lost another of its finest. When I first came to Iowa City in 1967 as a student John Casey required his class to read Stop Time a memoir by of all people a young man named Frank Conroy. At the time young writers did not write memoirs. Everybody writes them now but there has never been anything with the energy, the honesty, the feeling for people that Stop Time has. I daresay there won't be either. I was awed by it as an undergraduate and I am still awed by it. Jack Leggett ran the workshop then, to be followed by Frank. I interviewed him once for KRUI(for some reason the interview never ran) and I remember a tall relaxed man who had for some reason decided to be nice to me. He shocked me by treating me as an equal, wanting to know what I thought about this book and that. He said of all the writers in the world he'd most like to bring V. S. Naipaul to Iowa City--remember this was1980 or so, well before he became Nobel Lauriate. We spoke about A House for Mr. Biswas. This I thought was a truly kind man. Our relationship such as it was continued when, working at Prairie Lights, I was able to mark his taste, different from mine but with overlappings that made satisfying recommendations possible. He read mainly literary thrillers and the work of his students. When the daunting task of reading application manuscripts came he read them with the full force of his formidable attention, and could bring himself to read little else until the job was done. Then he'd come down to the book store and nose around for smart thrillers. He loved Alan Furst, Dan Fesperman, Neil Gordon, Michael Connolly, anyone who wrote with heart and wisdom of people under stress. He did not like: funny wise-cracking detectives, anything written in any sort of dialect(I couldn't get him into George Pelecanos), most thrillers by American women, although he liked Ruth Rendell and Frances Fyfield(Brits), gratuitous violence of any sort, gimmickry, things that reminded him too much or certain other things. He frequently got back to me and told me what he'd liked and not liked, and that was what our friendship was made of. It was a friendship I treasured and will miss. "Dynamite book!" he'd say enthusiastically.
He spoke candidly about his cancer, joked about his chemo taste which had to be dumbed down a bit. A month or so ago he called me at home, a first. "Thanks for the books you've been sending home with Maggie" he said " I loved that Tudor one, what was it called?" "Disolution?" "Yeah, that was just really terrific, and all the books, really" I blathered about it's being my job and he stopped me. "No, really. thanks for all the books." It was not till a few hours later that I realized he'd been saying good-bye. A blessing from a sweet and talented man, for which I am grateful. I hope he's somewhere where he can hear Thelonius Monk or Bill Evans. Goodbye Frank.


At May 24, 2005 at 10:05 PM, Anonymous Teri Berg said...

Wonderful good-bye to Conroy. Only one's therapist (and, with luck, significant other), perhaps there is no one who can understand the internal workings and wonderings more than the person who knows the right books to suggest.


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