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Moment 9: Pat Conroy and the Drive to Marriage by the Book (2014)

10 Great Moments in DBF History
Moment 9: Pat Conroy and the Drive to Marriage by the Book (2014)

Pat Conroy and the Drive to Marriage by the Book

Philip Rafshoon joined the AJC DBF as Programming Director in 2013 following nearly 20 years as the owner and operator of Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse, a landmark welcoming space for Atlanta residents and visitors and an unofficial community center.

I’ve had many opportunities to meet authors that I love over the years, and, in various capacities, I’ve even driven a few around. But before the 2014 Festival, I’d never had to do an emergency run of our top authors to get them to their gigs on time.

Pat Conroy is a legend in Southern Literature and one of the best-known and most beloved master storytellers in the world. I’d known of Pat from the time I was a child. My father was a photographer who worked with Pat often and looked up to him as one of the people he admired most. Pat was at the AJC DBF in 2014 for his own curated track, “Pat Conroy Selects.” This was the first time we had an author select their “Dream Team” of authors that they wanted to read at the AJC Decatur Book Festival.

That day, Pat had already signed books at the AJC tent in the morning and moderated a panel in the afternoon. It was time for his big finale of the day – a panel with four authors: Pat, his wife, novelist Cassandra King, author Cliff Graubart, who had known Pat from the seventies when he opened The Old New York Book Shop, and his wife Cynthia Graubart, well known for her cookbooks. The subject: Marriage by the Book.

I was in the lobby of the DBF Festival Hotel when a major thunderstorm broke out. The author’s escort was caught in the storm and couldn’t make it to the hotel on time. With twenty minutes to go until their presentation and a dying cellphone, I had to find all of them quickly (and either find my car or find a canoe)!

Somehow I managed to find all four and together, we found the car. By that time, there was only five minutes to spare.

When I reminded Pat and Cliff that they knew my Father, the car became very relaxed and the stories and jokes started coming. Many of these were quite off color and can’t be repeated here. In a five-minute ride, these four writers sure knew how to tell a lot of tales. I can’t imagine how I drove, as we were laughing so hard and I could hardly see the road in the storm. We managed to get to the venue on time – to a packed house. Even in the pouring rain, the fans came out to quite a memorable event. It was one of the best events of the weekend and a miracle that we started on time!

— Philip Rafshoon