Co-owner and editor of Lowcountry Weekly; columnist (Rants and Raves); blogger (It’s Me, Margaret). Former assistant to Pat Conroy. Advisory Council for the Board of Directors – Pat Conroy Literary Center.
Story by Mary Ellen Thompson Photos By John Wollwerth
Margaret Evan’s writing is eloquent and thought provoking; here is what she has to say about her work.
BL: Do you and Jeff own Lowcountry Weekly together?
ME: Yes, we bought Lowcountry Weekly 17 years ago when it was 18 months old. The hard work is done by Jeff and Amanda Hanna, who is our sales and marketing director. They do all the “heavy lifting.” I’m the lucky one who gets to sit at home and write at the computer in my pajamas.
BL: What is it like to own a newspaper in this time of digital reading?
ME: It’s very difficult. What has saved us is that we’re a mix of a community paper and a features magazine, a magapaper. People tend to read news on-line, but many advertisers want to be showcased in print. It’s challenging, but I don’t think print is going away.
BL: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
ME: I can’t remember a time I didn’t want to be a writer. I wrote poetry as a child and walked around the house reading it aloud. Reading and writing were the only things I was really good at. I have a bachelors degree in English and a masters degree in English. People often ask me if I’m going to write a book. I don’t think I have the ambition to do what it takes to do something that big. I like my small writing life. I like connecting with people, making them think; moving people is what it is all about for me. Our society has become so fragmented; I’m kind of obsessed with breaking down those walls.
BL: How did you get to Beaufort?
ME: I came here in my 20’s after graduate school and lived at Fripp Island where I met Pat Conroy; I had become a huge fan of his in grad school. I had been in classes that were all about deconstruction, The Prince of Tides saved me by reawakening my passion for the written word. When I came here, I recognized the lowcountry from his writing. I became his research assistant for two years while he was writing Beach Music. Beaufort Magazine asked me to interview Pat, and as a result I became their editor for the next six years. Pat Conroy launched my career. When Beaufort Magazine folded, I started writing for Lowcountry Weekly, then Jeff and I bought it.
BL: Do you have a certain time of day that you dedicate to writing?
ME: In the morning, I get up early and write before the day gets in my way. But I’ll often post on Facebook over a little happy hour wine; I don’t necessarily recommend that.
BL: A special place?
ME: The breakfast nook in our house where my computer is.
BL: A certain kind of clothing – pajamas?
ME: Pajamas, gym clothes, sweats, or in the summer, old maxi-dresses; they are always nice because you can just put on some sandals and go out if you want to.
BL: Is there something people would be surprised to find out about you?
ME: Gosh! Is there anything I haven’t told? How’s this – I’ve never watched a single episode of Downton Abbey!
BL: How would you define your style as a writer?
ME: I think I have a questioning style. I write to ask questions, not to convince or persuade. Flannery O’Connor said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” When I write, I don’t know where it’s going until I’ve written it, then it becomes clear.
BL: Do you think your pre-teen affection for Nancy Drew led you into wanting to investigate people’s lives by writing about them?
ME: Probably so! I’m still a huge mystery fan. I always wanted to be a detective; when I got older I realized that meant things like carrying a gun, but I like to find clues and solve puzzles. I think the kind of writing I do is like being a detective.
BL: On your blog, you describe yourself as “A fairly conventional Southern girl with the mind of a philosopher, the sensitivity of a mystic, and the sentimentality of your great Aunt Esther…” clearly you are not shy or self-effacing. Is that why are you so comfortable putting yourself out there in your columns, blogs and social media?
ME: I think I am shy in person. About the philosopher – I’m constantly making connections. The mystic? I tend to see, I read a lot of spiritual truths into the natural world. I feel comfortable putting myself out there in writing. I can’t not put myself out there; you have to be honest in your writing. I do feel shy in public because of what I write. People know more about me than I do of them. I’ve done that to myself. They feel like they know me. I push through that shyness because I’m Southern and my mom raised me to be social.
BL: Another writer, who admires you greatly, wondered if you are purposely provocative at times. She said, “Margaret baits with elegance and innocence and then sits back as people often tear each other apart.”
ME: I would be lying if I said I was not trying to stir the pot on Facebook, but not so people will tear each other apart. Instead, I am trying to provoke discussion and common understanding and deep thought. My goal is to help people ingrained in one position see the perspective, and common humanity, of people ingrained in another.
BL: How did your experiences with Pat Conroy affect you and your writing?
ME: When I was much younger, I tried to write like Pat. I soon figured out that wasn’t going to work so I tried to strive for his specificity of language. He was a mentor to me. When I worked for him again it was 20 years later. I was doing a lot of writing for him, critiquing manuscripts, toward the end of his life. He would say to me, “Kid, your writing is getting better all the time.” He read my columns and said, “You do something most columnists can’t; you create a whole world in your column.” No one could describe Margaret’s work better than Pat Conroy.