Pat Conroy focused on the advice he once got from “the finest writer I ever encountered,” novelist James Dickey, who taught him at the University of South Carolina.

“He told me to write everything I did with all the passion and all the power you could muster,” Conroy recalled.

“Don’t worry about how long it takes or how long it is when you’re done. You know, he was right.”

Another source of inspiration was fellow Southerner Thomas Wolfe.

“Thomas Wolfe was the first writer I felt was writing for me,” Conroy said. “He was articulating a vision of the world that seemed ready for me.”

And as he achieved fame with best-sellers that became hit movies, Conroy would try to inspire a younger generation to pursue their passions.

“Make this university, this state, yourself and your family proud,” Conroy told University of South Carolina grads in a 1997 commencement speech. “If you have a little luck, any luck at all, if you do it right, there’s a great possibility you can teach the whole world how to dance.”