Authors (clockwise from top left) Signe Pike, Patty Morrison, Patti Callahan, Victoria Frank Peluso, poet Marjory Wentworth, Cassandra King Conroy, and Dorothea Benton Frank celebrate Wentworth’s book launch at High Cotton in 2016.
If there was a master class in how to dote on your audience, Dorothea Benton Frank would be the ultimate instructor. I got to watch her in action one year at her Fanfest—a sold-out weekend in Charleston that was like an over-the-top bachelorette fête for hundreds of Dottie diehards.
Her Southern drawl turned husky and hoarse after 12-hour days regaling readers with self-deprecating stories, hilarious anecdotes, endless one-liners (“eat the pie, always eat the pie”), but that didn’t slow her down. She invited them to her home for cocktails; wined and dined and goodie-bagged them; and signed book after book, always with a sincere, “It’s absolutely my pleasure.” She was tireless, gregarious, half stand-up comic, half chick-lit queen, but wholly herself: witty, radiant, always bejeweled, occasionally barefoot, utterly real. Her final Fanfest was June 2019. Three months later, Dottie Frank was gone.
Her multitudes of devoted readers were far from Dottie’s only fans. Fellow writers loved her, too. They loved her warmth and work ethic, her humility and humor, and her generosity. Reunion Beach (HarperCollins, April 2021) is proof of that and a fitting tribute for—and inspired by—a quintessential storyteller. It includes stories, novellas, essays, poems, and recipes penned by some of her dearest friends—sort of a “Sisterhood of the Traveling Beach Bag,” among them New York Times best-selling authors Elin Hilderbrand, Adriana Trigiani, Patti Callahan, and Mary Alice Monroe.
Marjory Wentworth, former South Carolina poet laureate, includes poems she wrote for five of Frank’s novels, as well as a new poem titled “Reunion Beach” in which she writes, “You brought us/the world/of this island/its wax myrtles/and palmettos/…each beloved object/of your home place/lining the pages/of your stories/like sand scattered/between sentences.” Cassandra King Conroy conjures a tale centered on two of Frank’s areas of expertise: food and love, while Nathalie Dupree includes recipes and spicy anecdotes for her “Pork Chop Friend,” i.e. someone who always makes room for others, the way two pork chops in a pan cook juicier and tastier than one.
Patti Callahan’s “Bridesmaids” expounds on a concept that Frank had been percolating for her next novel that tragically she never got to write, inspired after attending her 50th high school reunion in Charleston in 2018. Frank had envisioned a novel titled “Reunion Beach” with main characters each resembling a South Carolina bird, as do each of Callahan’s delightful characters—four college girlfriends reuniting on a Lowcountry island to sort out midlife matters of the heart.
In “Summer of 79,” Hilderbrand takes us to Nantucket for a complicated family reunion full of all the shenanigans and lively characters that Frank was so deft at creating. Mary Alice Monroe writes of a touching mother-daughter reunion; and in a brilliant display of voice, Trigiani crafts an imagined heavenly correspondence between Frank and Pat Conroy (whom Frank endearingly nicknamed “Fat Boy” and got away with it). This segment alone is worth the price of the book.