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The Water is Wide: A Memoir

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  11,793 ratings  ·  809 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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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeGone with the Wind by Margaret MitchellThe Help by Kathryn StockettThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainFried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
Best Southern Literature
62nd out of 847 books — 2,110 voters
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Best Books of the Decade: 1970's
108th out of 949 books — 915 voters

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Community Reviews

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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
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
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
This was another outstanding book by Pat Conroy,he is a amazing storyteller. This book really makes you think about how society and how racism plays a big part in it. The characters were believable and you often felt sympathy for some of the characters. What separates Pat from most authors is the fact that lives what he writes, he is not just telling the story but he actually lived through it.
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
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
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
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 love Pat Conroy's way with words. He has such a keen sense of description. He doesn't use a lot of words, yet manages to be very precise in his details. This detail makes his characters vivid and memorable.

There are crappy teachers who care more for their job than the students, and then there are the ones who roll up their sleeves and reach with both hands in order to make a difference. Teachers need to be teachable. Some of the problems with public schools that were addressed in this book, a
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
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
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
Great contrast with so many of the usual plot-driven but meaning-less books I come across. Conroy is a great writer, a poet. But that is not so unusual. It is Conroy's willingness to discuss what it means to be human that makes his work special.

I love a good teacher memoir. This is a great one, full of surprises. A great story of an idealistic but young and naive teacher. His energy and ambition was matched only by his chutzpah, arrogance, and complete lack of diplomacy. But the author reflects
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.


I read this book years ago, but recently re-read it for our book club. I love Conroy and his way with words. I think it is a Southern thing, but I am partial to Southern writers and so appreciate their use of language.
This book is his memoir of the year he spent teaching on Yamacraw Island; just off the coast of South Carolina. Being Pat Conroy, he rocks the boat, tips the scales, and thoroughly disrupts life there, but oh what a wondeful teacher he was for that year to those children who had be
I can't remember if I read this before or after I saw the movie "Conrack" with Jon Voight but they're both great.
I really like some of Pat Conroy's books (South of Broad, King of Tides) but not a fan of others (any of the Santini books) so I typically approach his books with hesitation. However, The Water is Wide definitely falls into the LIKE category.

I am always intrigued by isolated places and Yamacraw Island is just the type of isolated place to capture my attention. I love learning about the locals of the island and how a young, idealistic Pat Conroy handled a year as a teacher for these isolated and
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
Paul Haspel
The waterway that separates Daufuskie Island from the mainland of South Carolina does not seem too wide, if one is simply looking at a map. Daufuskie is one of the Sea Islands that are renowned for their natural beauty. Yet it is also a place where the profusion of heavy manufacturing plants around Savannah, Georgia, fostered water pollution that devastated the fishing industry upon which the island’s predominantly African-American residents had long depended for their livelihood. And in the lat ...more

“I dislike poor teachers. They are criminals to me. I’ve seen so much cruelty toward children. I’ve seen so many children not given the opportunity to live up to their potential as human beings.” ― Pat Conroy, The Water is Wide

Nowhere near as interesting, intense, and impactful as his other memoirs (e.g. The Lords of Discipline, The Great Santini) Pat Conroy’s, The Water is Wide is the story of his futile displeasure with myopic mindsets and intractable bureaucracy. My only surprise was, t
Carmen Sisson
This is hands-down the best book I have read by Pat Conroy, which is remarkable considering it is his second book, published in 1972 when he was 27. "The Water is Wide" is a memoir, like most Conroy novels, and it is based on his experiences teaching in a one-room school house on Daufuskie Island, S.C.

A few years ago, I would have told you that the South Conroy describes -- the pitiable state of its education system, the political machinations, the injustices both slight and great -- was a merci
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
Michael Nash
*2nd reading*
This novel/memoir was excellent. I love Conroy's eloquent writing and as a Southerner I feel deeply connected with the issues of living in the South about which he writes. My only problem with Conroy is the borderline ridiculous, unbelievable events which often form the plot centerpieces of his novels (the tiger scene in the Prince of Tides, or the evil cabal of racist school elders in The Lords of Discipline, for example). The Water is Wide, as a memoir of Conroy's actual life, is
Heidi A. Quinn
Harsh Language to me, Reality Then.

I loved this book. I completely understood Conroy's desire to give these children everything he could in the short time he had with them. The language and mindset were hard for me throughout the first half, and then I had to realize it simply was what was in the late 60's in SC. Like all his novels, this book paints an amazing visual of the beauty of the low country.
Moving and enlightening account of a year Conroy spent in the 60s 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 administration ...more
Dee Miller
A Story That Rings Totally Credible!

Having witnessed the chilling, harrowing experiences of the long overdue changes while myself working in these very same years in southern ghettos, I could relate SO well to "Conrack's" challenges and wise observations. This book was comic relief for those of us who managed to survive similar educational experience.

Cindy Feigert
Pat Conroy is one of my favorite authors. While visiting the low country I found this in a bookstore and decided I should read it. It was an interesting look back at education during the late 60's just as integration was beginning. sadly we still face many of the issues addressed in this book.
Loved it. Besides being a year in a young teacher's life, it's a look at how things used to be and sometimes still are
I can understand Pat's desire to help these kids but they didn't have much of s foundation so itmade it a difficult task.He tried and it's a shame that he was forced out but we all have been blessed with his beautiful writing. Wondrful book.
 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
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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
More about Pat Conroy...
The Prince of Tides Beach Music South of Broad The Great Santini The Lords of Discipline

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“Lightning flashed around the island; thunder played its favorite game of scaring the crap out of all the shivering mortals on the earth below.” 0 likes
“No man or woman has the right to humiliate children, even in the sacrosanct name of education. No one has the right to beat children with leather straps, even under the sacred auspices of all school boards in the world.” 0 likes
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