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"The Prodigious Tales of Homer Hickam: West Virginia's Master Storyteller"
Homer Hickam was born February 19, 1943, in Coalwood, West Virginia, a company coal-town where his father, Homer, Sr., worked as a mining engineer and administrator, and his mother Elsie struggled to keep the coal dust out and her family in tune with the values she held dear. Like the mountains that offered both sublime vistas and claustrophobic spaces that could smother one, the company town was both comfortingly close-knit and fraught with the perils of everyone knowing everybody else's business. Sonny (Homer, Jr.) Hickam was the second son of Elsie and Homer Hickam, and his eventful young life growing up in the company town is detailed in the three remarkable bildungsroman, or coming-of-age stories, that constitute the Coalwood Trilogy.
Growing up in a company town in the late 1950s, in the era directly after Sputnik had rocked American education, was like growing up anywhere else and at the same time very different. The sense of belonging as well as alienation, from both neighbors and at times his own family, inspired young Hickam and his fellow Big Creek High School science nerds, who called themselves the "Big Creek Missile Agency" or BCMA, to quest the perfect rocket propulsion, a mission that would win the support of the football-absorbed Coalwood community and eventually a National Science Fair award in 1960. That particular story is the subject of Rocket Boys.
After graduating from Virginia Tech in 1964, Hickam entered the army as First Lieutenant in the Fourth Infantry Division, serving in Vietnam from 1967-68, during which time he won both an Army Commendation and a Bronze Star. When he left the army six years later, he had risen to the rank of captain. It was after his return from Vietnam that Hickam began to develop his passion for prose, writing for a variety of science magazines, mostly about his scuba-diving adventures. His first novel, Torpedo Junction (1989), was a military history piece published by the Naval Institute Press. That book was followed almost a decade later by his phenomenal best seller Rocket Boys, turned into the film October Sky, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, and Laura Dern. The book put Hickam into the literary spotlight, receiving a National Book Critics Circle nomination for Best Biography, a NY Times Great Books award, and Book-of-the-Month honors. Rocket Boys was followed by The Coalwood Way (2000), "an equal" rather than "a sequel," according to Hickam, and Sky of Stone. For more information, click on the Homer Hickam page above.
Hickam will serve throughout 2014 as Shepherd University's Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Residence and be on campus September 19-26, 2014, to receive the Appalachian Heritage Writer's Award, funded by the WV Humanities Council and the WV Center for the Book. Hickam's Coalwood Trilogy was selected as the One WV Common Read by the WV Center for the Book. Hickam will be the focus of the 2015 Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Homer Hickam Volume VII, published in 2015.
About the Program
To encourage aspiring West Virginia writers and to promote the kind of networking that fosters literary achievement, Shepherd University developed, in fall 2001, the West Virginia Fiction Competition. Fiction submissions from across the state of West Virginia are judged by a panel of teachers and writers, with final selection of the winning works of fiction made by the Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Residence. The first-prize winner of the fiction competition will receive a cash prize of $500.
The Anthology of Appalachian Writers is a publication that encourages a long-established tradition of storytelling, love of language, and creative expression associated broadly with the area of the country known as Appalachia. Though the principal mission of the anthology is to provide a venue for publication of new writers, it also provides a collection of literature and scholarship that contributes to an understanding and appreciation for the region. Poetry, fiction, memoir, heritage writers, as well as new voices appear in each annual volume of the anthology.
in partnership with the Shepherd University Foundation, the West Virginia Center for the Book, the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi,
the Shepherdstown Public Library, the Scarborough Society, the West Virginia Division of Culture and History,
the West Virginia Commission on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.