The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy
This is the memoir of writer Pat Conroy's time spent as a teacher on Yamacraw Island, a small, poor island off the coast of South Carolina populated mostly by black people.
In the 1970s when desegregation was a buzz word in the South, Conroy went to the island as a young idealistic teacher with lots of what he calls "white guilt" over the treatment of black people. He is determined to make a difference in the lives of the poor black children of Yamacraw.
What he discovers is a place rife with poverty; children who know nothing, not even the basics of numbers or alphabet; white islanders who lord it over the blacks; and an administration that is more concerned about money and politics than about correcting past racial injustice and making things better for the children.
Conroy spent a year teaching on the island. He became close to the children he taught and managed to develop relationships with some of their families. He forsook traditional teaching methods in favor of anything that would hold the interest of the children and actually help them learn. He opened up a new world for them showing them what life was like outside their island.
Unfortunately, Conroy's methods were frowned upon by the powers that be. He began his second year as a teacher on the island and was fired after disagreements with the administration. This book was written to record his experiences and to relate his self-reflections over the things he learned while on the island.
I loved this read. Pat Conroy is an excellent story teller. I had heard of, but not read, some of his popular fictional works, such as The Prince of Tides. The Water is Wide is a compelling, sometimes humorous, sometimes very sad description of his time on Yamacraw island. I was stirred by his passion and felt for the children he was able to touch during that time. I felt like I was looking in on the island for myself.
Reader beware: Conroy peppers his writing with curse words, and he tends to be much more liberal than my typical leanings. I found myself agreeing with him often though in this book.