This year’s Camp Conroy, a two-week literary day camp in Beaufort, took place in the very same building where the Lowcountry’s beloved author Pat Conroy studied and later taught in the 1960s.
Hosted by the nonprofit Pat Conroy Literary Center, Camp Conroy takes young writers and artists on an adventure through the world of book building. This year’s camp was held July 12-24 at Beaufort Middle School, which was once the location of Beaufort High School.
The camp gives children ages 8-14 a chance to experiment with various genres of writing and art styles. Campers work independently and collaboratively on projects, then choose their favorite writings and art to go into an anthology that will be on display at the literary center and available for purchase on Amazon. The anthology includes stories, essays, poems, artwork and photography related to this summer’s theme, “Free to Be.”
“The first week is about creating, about getting a sense of what you might do,” said Jonathan Haupt, executive director of the Conroy center. “Then, early in the second week you settle into the pieces you are definitely going to want in the book, and start refining them. By the end of the second week, you’re collaborating to build that book together.”
Camp Conroy is led by Haupt and a team of published instructors and featured guest speakers. This year’s team included award-winning children’s book author and editor Lisa Anne Cullen, children’s book author and artist Robin Prince Monroe, and poet and translator Miho Kinnas of Hilton Head Island.
Sixteen children, including two of Conroy’s grandchildren, participated in this year’s camp. Campers attended workshops on story development, editing, critiquing, poetry writing, flash fiction writing and bookmark making. They learned different art techniques and created a collaborative piece that will be on display at the literary center.
Bluffton High School teacher Deborah Womble and three talented teenage camp counselors also had a huge part in the camp this year. One of Womble’s former creative writing students, Addie Bowers, a 2021 graduate of Bluffton High, didn’t know much about Conroy before working at the camp. She was impressed that the Southern-born white author had taught a group of black children in the segregated South.
“I mean, that is so cool,” Bowers said. “He was just the coolest guy.”
Bowers and the other two counselors, 15-year-old Alex Bosley and 16-year-old Lee Lemstrom were there to keep the children safe, help them with their projects and encourage their creativity.
In addition to earning some spending money, the young women learned a lot and were able to publish their own work in the anthology. The three counselors worked with Haupt to give a presentation about Conroy to the campers, each speaking about different parts of the author’s life.
“This is a really clever group, and we want them to have the freedom to express themselves and find their own voice,” Haupt said. “But they need a little bit of direction. And the counselors – because they’re just a few years older – they’re actually able to do that much more effectively than the old-timers. It’s wonderful to have them part of the camp.”
Bosley and Lemstrom were not new to Camp Conroy. The two had participated in the camp in its first two years and became close friends there. Bosley said meeting Lemstrom was a turning point in her life. The two friends inspire each other to keep writing and work on projects together.
Bosley said attending that first camp helped her realize she could write and publish her own work, which gave her great joy.
The power of the location was not lost on the adults. “It’s happening for our counselors in the same building where it happened for Pat Conroy, where he made the transition from student to teacher,” Haupt said. “The writing life that he dreamed of as a kid really started to open up for him as well. It’s nice to see the circle continue.”
For more information on the Pat Conroy Literary Center, visit patconroyliterarycenter.org. The center is located at 601 Bladen St. in Beaufort, and is open for public tours from noon to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays, and other times by appointment.
Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.