Dorothea Benton Frank
One thing first: Pat Conroy is not really a local author. The scribe behind The Prince of Tides, The Lords of Discipline, The Great Santini, and The Beach has often written about Charleston -- and, yes, he is a graduate of The Citadel -- but he is not a resident Charleston author in the sense that, say, Sullivan's Island homeowner, taxpayer, and New York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank is.
When we first introduced this category in 2000, readers picked author Bret Lott (Jewel, A Song I Knew By Heart), who at the time was still writer-in-residence at the College of Charleston (incidentally, he's returning here from LSU next year). Every year since then, Conroy, a resident of Fripp Island 90 miles to the south, has taken the prize. We think that's a little unfair for two reasons: 1) He lives an hour and a half away from Charleston, and 2) The man hasn't published a book of fiction in 12 years. Pending his purchase of a home within the Charleston city limits, therefore, we're retiring him from eligibility for the Best Local Author category. There are too many true resident writers -- existing and up-and-coming -- to be squandering this award on someone from "off," no matter how well he conjures cobbled streets and dysfunctional Southern family life.
Charleston's actually home to a surprising number of successful writers, among them Anne Rivers Siddons, Sue Monk Kidd, Mary Alice Monroe, Josephine Humphreys, Charlie Geer, Beth Webb Hart, and poets Paul Allen and Marjory Wentworth. Frank took her place in that pantheon in 1999 with her debut Lowcountry novel Sullivan's Island, which rocked The New York Times bestseller list. Since then she's cranked out a pile of salt-marsh-and-grits-themed bestsellers: Plantation (2001), Shem Creek (2002), Isle of Palms (2003), Pawley's Island (2005), and last year's Full of Grace. Her seventh novel, The Land of Mango Sunsets, set in Hilton Head, hits shelves nationwide on April 10.