As a child growing up in a military family, Conroy learned from his mother that books could be his constant companions as the family shuttled from Marine base to Marine base.
“What I remember about her, from the very earliest time of my life, is her reading to me,” Conroy tells NPR’s Scott Simon. “She had a great tone, a warm style, a terrific Southern accent. She read us lots of poetry … I can still hear her voice.” She read him Gone With the Wind, and gave all the roles to family members–Melanie Wilkes was an aunt, Frank Kennedy was an uncle.
Reading was a refuge for him, both emotionally and physically. Conroy’s father wouldn’t hit him when he was reading; he thought his son was studying and approved of it. “It was the one place you could go to get away from his fists,” says Conroy. “And it worked every time.”