Deadly diagnosis sparks award winning writing for USC Upstate professor


SPARTANBURG, SC (WSPA) – A deadly diagnosis led USC Upstate writing professor, Tom McConnell, to write 12 award winning works in the past six years.

McConnell was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer.

“It became a kind of life preserver. It became something to hold onto in a torrent of bad news,” McConnell said.

Half of people diagnosed with this cancer die within five years, McConnell says this reality shocked him. He was told he might not live to see his 13-year-old son graduate from high school.

This lack of time compelled him to put pen to paper.

“In the back of my mind I was thinking, maybe some day this might help someone who is going through something similar whose a civilian in the same war,” says McConnell.

His latest memoir, I Have Seen My Death, just won first place for non-fiction in the Porter Fleming Literary Competition, among authors from throughout the southeast.

“The story isn’t just wow, this is the most horrible thing, it’s also, this horrible thing, and there’s amazing people around me. And there’s amazing moments of grace throughout the day,” says USC Upstate department chair Celena Kusch.

McConnell once wrote “I was certain I had seen my death.”

Yet, six years after the diagnosis, he is still here today.

At 54, he has seen his son graduate, published 12 works, and has won dozens of awards and grants.

His latest novel is a WWII story called, The Wooden King, and was a finalist last year for the South Carolina First Novel Prize. It is set to be published next spring by The Hub City Press.

While he can’t plan his future in the same way he plans novels, the writing itself has given him a new outlook on the future.

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