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The Water Is Wide: A Memoir

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  9,934 ratings  ·  693 reviews
The island is nearly deserted, haunting, beautiful. Across a slip of ocean lies South Carolina. But for the handful of families on Yamacraw Island, America is a world away. For years the people here lived proudly from the sea, but now its waters are not safe. Waste from industry threatens their very existence–unless, somehow, they can learn a new life. But they will learn...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published March 26th 2002 by Dial Press Trade Paperback (first published 1969)
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Best Southern Literature
60th out of 761 books — 1,842 voters
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12th out of 201 books — 122 voters

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This is probably more of a reflection than a"review" I read this book when I first started teaching, and my naive and much younger self wanted to be exactly the kind of teacher Pat Conroy had wanted to be-one who worked with children who needed me and whose lives I could touch in some way-only I would do it better of course! My first teaching job plunked me down in a non-air-conditioned overcrowded school in Little Havana (in the heart of the city of Miami, FL for you non-natives) with 100% of m...more
Jun 05, 2008 Maureen rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: education, biography
This was the first Pat Conroy book I read, and several years later, I had an opportunity to spend some time on Yamacraw, the island where he taught school. It was a magical place, with sandy roads shaded by great oak trees dripping with spanish moss. The people lived in backwards conditions, but they were tied to the land and their relationship with the land and the ocean in a way that few if any of the rest of us will ever experience. This is an inspiring, uplifting book and I am a better perso...more
I was really impressed with this book. Not only did I enjoy the story, which is true, but I also enjoyed the writing of Pat Conroy. This is the first book I have read by Conroy. This is about the experience Conroy had in the early 70’s teaching in a one room school house on Yamacraw Island (which is the pseudonym for Daufuskie Island), an island off the coast of South Carolina. This island was populated by mostly African Americans. The experience was truly eye opening . It really depicted the so...more
I had gotten a copy of this book a while back for a few reasons:
1. It takes place in SC
2. Pat Conroy is a SC writer
3. I like some of his stuff, despite his lunatic family
4. I had fond memories of the movie
5. One of my favorite folk songs is "The Water is Wide".
6. A friend of mine is mentioned in the afterword.

I saw the movie made from this book when I was a teenager, a few years before my family moved to South CArolina. It made a big impression on me, so it was with some trepidation that I actua...more
What can I say? I LOVE Pat Conroy's writing! In My Losing Season the way he describes a basketball game is pure poetry. While I was hanging about the local bookseller (as opposed to a book store) waiting for Conroy to write another book, I realized I had never read The Water is Wide. I don't know how I missed a Conroy book. I bought a copy and devoured it as soon as I got home! After having read all his other books and knowing his family history, it was an interesting read. He wrote this book be...more
Pat Conroy is a wizard with words. This is a true account of his sojourn as a young teacher in a two room schoolhouse on an impoverished island off the lower South Carolina coast. He made each of these students come to life and I was so involved both in the account of what went on in the classroom as well as what was happening behind the scenes in administration that had kept the inadequacies and inequalities in place.

I guess I so connected with this story because I went to public schools in the...more
Conroy, a successful novelist, spent a year teaching on an isolated island off the coast of South Carolina. The year was the 1969-70 school year and the island populated by highly disadvantaged sea islanders, mostly African-American with a handful of custodial whites who run the island and its limited services. Conroy, in his young twenties, a relatively recent graduate from The Citadel, had taught high school on the mainland for a couple of years. He is shocked by the impact of the historical m...more
I really enjoyed this book. Mr. Conroy, a young, idealistic, middle-class white teacher is offered a job to teach on mostly-African American Yamacraw Island, an island in South Carolina virtually cut off from society, both figuratively and literally. The year was 1969 and in the Southern United States, children of different races were not educated together. Educating the students who lived on the impoverished island of Yamacraw proved to be a challenge for the young teacher, as he fought for opp...more
I can't remember if I read this before or after I saw the movie "Conrack" with Jon Voight but they're both great.
Because I am overly descriptive, I would have subtitled this book "The arrogance of idealism" because it so well documents the reality that comes with facing an entrenched culture and assuming that it can be changed simply because one's ideas are superior.

From a practical perspective I have known many teachers that have faced the ridiculously long odds of administrative agendas that have no bearing on educating children and persevered because they matured enough to persist in what they were doin...more
I didn't much care for this book when I read it, not because the unorthodox spirit of teaching was so rampant, but because I didn't think it provided functional answers to the education problem. On the other hand, the creative and unorthodox manner of teaching, that's hard to dislike and I wish we had more teachers who thought this way and could teach in a more unstructured way.
I read this book thoroughly angry with the school superintendent and the whole town for that matter. I demanded that t...more
Jesse Cozean
Pat Conroy is certainly one of my favorite authors and certainly one of the best true writers alive today. The Water is Wide is, in my opinion, his most accessible book, based on his experiences as a white man teacher black students in a neglected, backwater island school.

It is a powerful story, told by a fantastic storyteller, that seems to resonate with nearly everyone who reads it. The struggle of the young protagonist to change the world – or at least his tiny piece of it – is familiar to u...more
Moving and enlightening account of a year Conroy spent in the 60�s teaching disadvantaged black elementary school students in a two-room schoolhouse on a small coastal island off of Beaufort, SC. He is appalled at the poor level of education and limited aspirations of his students due to the isolation of the fishing community and cycle of poverty. It was exciting to experience the creative approaches Conroy uses to get through to the kids and efforts to get their parents and school administratio...more
 Barb Bailey
This is a true account of Pat Conroys year of teaching on a remote island off S Carolina coast. Yamacraw Island is home to mostly black families who have been sheltered , uneducated, and live off the sea for thie surivial.It is an insteresting account of their life and death experiences, their superstitions, and their challanges . As teacher Conroy tries to educate 18 children of all ages, some who can not read, some who can not count, and some who are clearly learning disabled. This book starte...more
Conroy shares his experience teaching on an isolated island off the South Carolina coast in the 1960s. Truthfully, I'm not sure if it was the writing on the story that makes me rate this a 3 (it was ok) versus something higher. You can imagine what his teaching experience on an isolated island, largely left alone by modern day, was like: poor families, students who could not read and did not know that the name of their country was the United States of America, an education system controlled on t...more
Cynthia .
It would be hard to explain what Pat Conroy is like if one has never read any of his books. But imagine the beautiful flow of a river; the perpetual dance of its waters and the calming music they create upon their every stroke with every earthly matter. Imagine the soothing feeling you can luxuriate in when you let your feet touch its cool waters. That is what Pat Conroy and his words are for me.


Anna Louise
We have come to expect not only radiant prose but honesty and intriguing story telling from Pat Conroy. There is no disappointment whatsoever in his THE WATER IS WIDE, a memoir of the time he spent on a small South Carolina island attempting to teach the poorest of the poor who could neither read nor write. Making the task even more difficult was the fact that they spoke what is called Gullah, a type of Creole developed by the African American people living there.

On Yamacraw (a fictional name f...more
A book club book. I probably wouldn't have chosen it for myself but I ended up really enjoying it. It is dated but it is certainly interesting to read how people today still matter-of-factly dismiss the abilities of poorer children - as well as children of color - simply as part of a greater universal truth. He definitely tried to make an indentation on these children's lives and could have succeeded with greater results if the insecure administrators hadn't fired him. That still happens today,...more
I reread this book since some of my students chose to read it (it had been a while), and I was reminded again of why I love Conroy. It's not as strong as some of his other novels (I particularly miss the diction of The Prince of Tides), but I really enjoyed the reread.
I have read Conroy before, but wanted to catch up on a couple I missed. The bad thing about reading a memoir is that one doubts that all really happened as the author portrayed. Being a teacher myself, it is OK to not like his methods since I lived through seeing a nutty teacher do some of the same while having very weird behavior which led to some awful abuses from him upon his students. It is true that Conroy tried because he stated that he loved his students, and I think the offender with who...more
This memoir deals with Conroy as a young teacher to a group of poor, severely academically neglected students on Yakataw Island in North Carolina. It's got a lot of humor and incredulity; sometimes simultaneously.
I must say this book answers many questions about Pat Conroy for me. A great book about how one person really can make a difference in many peoples lives. Conroy continues to be one of my all time favorite authors.
Maria Elena
Pat Conroy is one of my favorite authors. I fount The Water is Wide fascinating. As a teacher, at times it made me cringe. Conroy's narrative is beautiful, poetic, and fun. His descriptions of the tensions and feelings between whites and blacks in 1969 South Carolina were honest and hard to listen to. As usual, Mr. Conroy writes this memoir with self deprecating candor. He ends the book with the hope that the prejudices of the will die off as old mind sets die off. Sadly, I think that now there...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
I read this book over 10 years ago and still remember how much I liked it, so that says a lot for it. Very possibly my favorite of all Conroy's books, although I have a hard time picking faves.
Minty McBunny
I ran out of library books the day before my weekly trip to same, so I pulled this off my bookshelf. I'd only read it once before & remembered it being better than anticipated.

It really is an exceptional memoir, equal to, if not better than My Losing Season. I love Cponroy's memoirs because they allow glimpses into what parts of his fiction are actually taken from his own life. Also, his writing style, when applied to actual events, takes on a new and thrilling dimension to me.

Anyone who has...more
Gayle Wingerter
This book has been on my shelf for some years. Why did I wait to read it? Maybe because I'm always sad to end one of Conroy's books. I love his writing.
love that I got to see the school where he taught when I traveled to Daufuskie Island today.
A must read for anyone wanting to go into teaching!
pat conroy is one of my favorite writers - so fabulous
Jim Thomas
I like anything by Conroy. The Water is wide is about a young, idealistic teacher who takes a job teaching illiterate children of Yamacraw Island. It's shocking when Conroy discovers just how illiterate these little African American kids are. One example is none know who the president is nor do they know in what country they reside. Conroy's determination to teach these children in spite of all kinds of obstacles other than the obvious is inspirational. If we had teacher like this in all our sch...more
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Books Are Cheaper...: Book Two: The Water is Wide 4 8 Oct 22, 2013 06:35AM  
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Pat Conroy is the New York Times bestselling author of two memoirs and seven novels, including The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini, and The Lords of Discipline. Born the eldest of seven children in a rigidly disciplined military household, he attended the Citadel, the military college of South Carolina. He briefly became a schoolteacher (which he chronicled in his memoir The Water Is Wide) befo...more
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The Prince of Tides Beach Music South of Broad The Great Santini The Lords of Discipline

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“The teacher must always be on the attack, looking for new ideas, changing worn-out tactics, and never, ever falling into patterns that lead to student ennui.” 1 likes
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