It was while he was still a student that he wrote and then published his first book, "The Boo," a tribute to a beloved teacher.
After graduation, Conroy taught English in Beaufort, South Carolina, and soon after 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, Conroy was fired for his unconventional teaching practices, including his unwillingness to allow corporal punishment of his students and 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 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.
Following the birth of a daughter, Conroy and his wife moved to Atlanta, where he wrote his first novel, "The Great Santini," an autobiographical work exploring the conflicts of his childhood, particularly his confusion over his love and loyalty to an abusive and often dangerous father. The publication of the book that so painfully exposed his family's secret brought Conroy to a period of tremendous personal desolation. This crisis resulted in not only his own divorce but the divorce of his parents.
The Citadel became the subject of Conroy's next novel, "The Lords of Discipline," which exposed the school's harsh military discipline, racism, and sexism. After remarrying, Conroy 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. "Beach Music," Conroy's sixth book and his first novel since "The Prince of Tides," tells the story of 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 takes place in South Carolina and Rome, then reaches back in time to the Vietnam War and the horrors of the Holocaust.
For a man whose life's work has won him countless fans, Conroy has seen that success can bring him much personal grief. Alcohol and substance abuse are often threaded throughout his works, a testament to Conroy's own personal battles earlier in life. But as a man just past mid-life, Conroy is facing his most difficult battle: writing his own happy ending. He made peace with his father before the elder Conroy died of colon cancer in 1998. He has mended fences with the Citadel and, just before his 55th birthday, the school that once barred him as a traitor embraced him with an honorary degree. For his latest book, Conroy once again turned to non-fiction. And once again he turned to the Citadel as setting for the work titled "My Losing Season: A Point Guard's Way of Knowledge," about his senior-year basketball team at The Citadel.