A Final Conversation

For the past eighteen years, Frank Conroy has lived in Iowa City, Iowa, where he is director of the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. His house is one of several on a quiet street of mature trees, across the river from the university and up a gentle rise. On the March morning we met, the street was quiet and the trees bare. Conroy’s open garage door revealed one sports car and one SUV, standard issue for the neighborhood. Across the road a boy bundled against the chill shot hoops in his driveway. The lot adjacent to the Conroy home was vacant, a fact that, Conroy would note, caused his family to fall in love with the house: they always had light coming from the direction of the open space, and it offered a place for their gentle yellow Labrador, Gracie, to wander; and the day I arrived, though Conroy’s youngest son, Tim, was all but grown up and preparing for college entrance examinations, a rope scooter still hung from two trees on opposite ends of the lot.

Conroy’s wife, Maggie, met me at the door with Gracie. Inside, the house was airy despite the thousands of books that lined the walls and rested in piles beneath chairs and on tabletops. The books were actively in use, thumbed through and read, left on the sideboard, countertops, everywhere. Several attempts to organize them had failed, the most apparent of which was Maggie’s plan, logical enough, to organize them by color. One wall in the breakfast room held only black books, shading to navy blue on the lower shelves. The coffee table in the sunroom was piled high with MFA theses awaiting Conroy’s pencil, and it was easy to imagine that in a few years’ time some of these manuscripts would emerge as published novels by Iowa graduates.

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