Frank X Walker Frank X Walker: 2013 Writer-in-Residence

2014 schedule of events

Friday, September 19

Screening of film October Sky, 7:00 p.m. Reynolds Hall, the event and community discussion co-sponsored with the Shepherdstown Film Society.

Monday, September 22

“'Whom God Hath Hedged In': The Social World of the Company Town, with Dr. Matthew Foulds,” 5:00 p.m. Byrd Legislative Center

“Tales from the Coal Mines, with Fred Powers,” 7:00 p.m. Byrd Legislative Center

Tuesday, September 23

“From the Mountains to the Stars: Astronomy In and Above West Virginia, with Dr. Jason Best,” 5:00 p.m. Byrd Legislative Center

“A Celebration of Affrilachian Storytellers: The Anthology of Appalachian Writers and Photographers, with Frank X Walker” 7:00 p.m., at the Robert C. Byrd Legislative Center, Anthology Reception in Scarborough Reading Room at 8:00 p.m., the event co-sponsored by The WV Center for the Book, The Shepherd University Foundation, the Shepherd Appalachian Studies Program, and the Scarborough Library

Wednesday, September 24

Homer Hickam Visits with Martinsburg, Jefferson, and Berkeley Springs honors students at Martinsburg High School, 9:30 a.m.

Hickam Reading at Martinsburg Public Library and Reception, 11:00 a.m.

Lunch with AHWIR Project Director and Friends

"The Writing Life, with Homer Hickam," Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies, 7:00 p.m., followed by reception

Thursday, September 25

Lunch with Senior Moments Book Club, Noon

Writers Master Class with Homer Hickam, 3:00-4:30 p.m. at Byrd Legislative Center

Dinner at Yellow Brick Bank with Fiction Competition Winners, 6:00 p.m.

Scarborough Society Lecture and Awards Ceremony, “The Prodigious Tales of Homer Hickam: West Virginia’s Master Storyteller,” 8:00 p.m. Hickam presents the WV Fiction Awards (WV Center for the Book), receives the Appalachian Heritage Writer's Award (WV Humanities Council), and presents his keynote address at Erma Byrd Hall, followed by reception and book signing.

Friday, September 26

7:00 p.m. 19th Annual Appalachian Heritage Festival, Community Square Dance, Shepherdstown Town Hall (Community Building if it rains). Sponsored by Performing Arts Series at Shepherd and Shepherdstown Visitor Center.

Saturday, September 27

8:00 p.m. 19th Annual Appalachian Heritage Festival Showcase Concert, Frank Center. For tickets, contact PASS: $15, general admissions; $10 faculty, staff, and senior; free for ages 18 and under and Shepherd students with Rambler ID. Festival activities all day: see

Homer Hickam Biography

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 scuba diving magazines, mostly about his 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 (2001), which completed the series.

During this time, Hickam was following a career in aerospace, a dream fulfilled from his “rocket boy” days. He worked for ten years as an engineer for the Army Missile Command in Huntsville, Alabama, and in Germany. Afterward he worked at NASA until he retired in 1998. His NASA job involved training astronauts on science payloads and crews that would service the Spacelab and Shuttle missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope deployment missions and Hubble repair missions.

In recent years, Hickam has written a variety of fiction and nonfiction books, including We Are Not Afraid, a response to 9/11 through the lens of the Coalwood community, and his Josh Thurlow series — The Keeper’s Son (2003), The Ambassador’s Son (2005), and The Far Reaches (2007). His 2008 novel Red Helmet is about love and heroism in the Appalachian coalfields. Hickam’s books have been translated into many different languages. His most recent book, published in 2014, is titled The Lunar Rescue Company and is a young adult science fiction novel, the third in his Helium-3 series.

The books, however, for which Hickam is most admired are his Coalwood memoirs. These not only portray a period in West Virginian history that is slowly vanishing, but they explore a variety of themes such as domestic violence, the longing for “Elsewhere,” the longing to “Belong,” the nature of prejudice and the racial and class divides, the tyranny of gossip and convention (The Coalwood Way and Rocket Boys), and the dark and dangerous world inside a coal mine, with its “sky of stone” (Sky of Stone).