Though Frank Conroy is most admired for his first book, Stop-Time, a virtually flawless autobiography, he has also written notable fiction. In addition, he has influenced the course of literature as a public servant, as a teacher, and as director of the most prestigious writing program in the United States.
Frank Conroy was born in New York City and grew up in backwoods Florida and in Manhattan. His childhood was miserable. His abusive father spent much of his life in mental institutions and died young. The terror which he inspired in his son is dramatized in the story “Midair,” in which a young boy is suspended from a fifth-floor window by his insane father, who has escaped from the institution where he is confined. Conroy’s mother was distant, his stepfather feckless. The family moved frequently. In Stop-Time, the author describes his weekends at a state hospital, where his mother and stepfather were working, and his days in the Florida woods, where he moved in with dogs, only to be driven off when they became feral.
Conroy was saved from the fate of his sister, who eventually had a nervous breakdown, by his two abiding passions, books and jazz. His intellectual interests enabled him to score highly on college entrance examinations. As a result, he was accepted into Haverford College in Pennsylvania.
As John Haegert points out, one of the recurrent themes in Conroy’s works, as well as in his life, is that of new beginnings. It is ironic that, even if he derived nothing else from his unhappy childhood, Conroy had at least learned how to survive by starting fresh. On a trip to England when he was eighteen, Conroy first became truly conscious of the primary importance of art—a new beginning. So, too, was Haverford; after graduation, when he married Patty Monroe Ferguson and moved to New York City, Conroy again ventured fearlessly into a new life.
In Manhattan, Patty introduced her new husband into the select society of which she was a part. Years before his first book appeared,...
(The entire section is 840 words.)