Thousands of pages of papers, scrapbooks and more are being archived at the University of South Carolina, in the state that is the setting for most of Conroy's works.
He recalled that when his mother drove the family into the state decades ago to follow his military father's career, "I didn't know that when I crossed into South Carolina, it was my literary home."
"My papers belong here," said Conroy, 68. "I wanted them here, I am happy they are here, I am proud they are here."
The author said they could have gone to his alma mater, The Citadel in Charleston, but the military school didn't have the storage capacity to maintain them.
Because Conroy does not use a typewriter or computer, the collection includes 10,000 handwritten pages of all his varied drafts, from early work "The Water is Wide," through "The Prince of Tides," ''The Lords of Discipline," and "My Reading Life."
Conroy's works consistently top best-seller lists and remain there for weeks. Several have been made into movies, including "The Prince of Tides," which Barbra Streisand starred in and directed. Conroy co-wrote the screenplay, which garnered him an Academy Award nomination.
Included are 80 scrapbooks of letters, photos and news clippings put together by Conroy's late father, Don, the abusive Marine Corps pilot who inspired Conroy's novel "The Great Santini." Baby books, childhood compositions, movie scripts, love letters, divorce papers, even financial records are all included.
Dean of University Libraries Tom McNally, who negotiated the acquisition for the library with a bookseller friend of Conroy's, said the archive was acquired for the university through a donation made by USC alum Richard Smith of Columbia and his wife Novelle in memory of Richard's mother Dorothy. McNally declined to describe the cost of the purchase. It will include everything Conroy writes in the future, the dean added.
"This collection will bring scholars from all over the world. They will come, hungry to look at this collection, because you can see handwritten draft after handwritten draft, following by typed versions, and more handwritten drafts, up to the final publication," McNally said. An assistant transcribes Conroy's work.
Conroy never learned to type, McNally said, because his father forbade it, deriding it as "women's work."
"The Great Santini was old school, really old school!" McNally said with a chuckle. But that may turn into a special blessing for scholars, the dean said.
"With modern computers now, the best we get are a few drafts, and unless some old drafts are saved along the way, for most authors, they are gone," McNally said. With this collection, academics and scholars will be able to trace the transition of the writer's thoughts and work, accompanied by the letters and journals Conroy kept over the decades.
McNally said few writers save so much, which makes understanding some writers difficult.
Atlanta bookseller Norman Graubart, who helped Conroy organize the collection, said it "represents the entirety of Conroy's professional and private life and documents the extent to which the two are thoroughly intertwined."
Graubart said Conroy's writing engages readers because he is able to "lay bare the pain from his childhood and his life's mistakes, which most people try to hide."
An archivist has been hired to organize the collection and it will be ready for scholars to access in about a year, McNally said.
Oddly, the collection even includes things that Conroy himself didn't know he had, McNally said.
After the two reconciled, Conroy's father decided to document his son's fame in scrapbooks. McNally said the elder Conroy would go to his son's residence to have coffee, "and go through his mail and steal things for the scrap books, including a letter from Jimmy Carter Pat never knew he'd gotten."
The dean said the collection is more extensive than any he has ever seen in his decades of collecting. Despite advice to keep his financial papers out of the collection, Conroy insisted they be included, McNally said.
"He's written about his family, himself. He is wide open, and he wants all of his archives to be treated just the same," McNally said.
Follow Susanne M. Schafer on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/susannemarieap