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Writer Homer Hickam part of Shepherd Appalachian Heritage Festival

ISSUED: 8 September 2014
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — The culture and heritage of Appalachia will take center stage at Shepherd University during the 19th annual Appalachian Heritage Festival, which includes music, art and dance, as well as a residency with West Virginia native and acclaimed author Homer Hickam.

Hickam grew up in Coalwood in McDowell County, West Virginia, in the 1940s and 50s. He attended Big Creek High School, where he and his friends formed a rocket club called the Big Creek Missile Agency. They entered the 1960 National Science Fair, winning gold and silver medals in the category of propulsion. Hickam’s childhood and adventures as an amateur rocket builder are the basis for his acclaimed novel “Rocket Boys.” The movie “October Sky” is based on the book.

Hickam will serve as Shepherd University Writer in Residence during the festival, which takes place September 19-27. On September 24, Hickam will visit with honors students from several area high schools at Martinsburg High, followed by an appearance at 11 a.m. at the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library. That evening at 7 p.m. in the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies auditorium Hickam will discuss “The Writing Life,” with a reception following sponsored by the Shepherd University Foundation.

On September 25, Hickam will have lunch with the Senior Moments Book Club and conduct a writers master class for Shepherd University students. The Scarborough Society Lecture and Awards Ceremony, where Hickam will receive the Appalachian Heritage Writer’s Award and present the fiction contest awards, takes place at 8 p.m. in the Erma Ora Byrd Hall auditorium. Hickam will give a keynote address followed by a book signing. The event is sponsored by the West Virginia Humanities Council and West Virginia Center for the Book and Shepherd University Foundation.

Several events are planned leading up to Hickam’s appearance, including:

Special Affrilachian writers, quilt event planned

Last year’s Writer in Residence, Kentucky Poet Laureate and NAACP Image Award Winner Frank X Walker, will return to Shepherd to participate in the celebration of Affrilachian storytellers. Walker and other contributors to the book, Randall Horton, Shauna Morgan Kirlew, Omope Carter Daboiku, and Shepherd University Registrar Tracy L. Seffers, will perform and read from their work during the event.

Shepherd University’s Scarborough Library will also display a special handmade Appalachian quilt donated by Dr. Martha Dolly, a professor at Frostburg State University. Dolly’s mother, Phyllis Nichols Rowe, made the quilt, which is a permanent gift to the library. It will be on display, along with photographs from the Anthology, September 19-October 17. An Anthology and Quilt reception is planned for September 23 at 8 p.m. in the library reading room.

Dr. Sylvia Shurbutt, professor of English and coordinator for the Appalachian Studies Program, calls the festival a wonderful event for Shepherd students and the community, because Shepherdstown is a gateway into the Appalachian region.

“It’s also a gateway from Appalachia into the great big world out there and beyond. Henry Louis Gates called it the world everywhere else,” Shurbutt said. “And Shepherd is the gateway to both of those doors that swing both ways, and we hope that these programs help people go through both of those doors.”

Music, dance, and art also featured

The Appalachian Heritage Festival continues Friday and Saturday, September 26-27, with events sponsored by the Performing Arts Series at Shepherd that focus on the region’s art and culture.

Friday evening, September 26 from 7-10 p.m. there will be a free square dance on King St. in front of the Shepherdstown Town Hall, followed by a mystery and ghost tour at 10 p.m. beginning on the steps of McMurran Hall. A late-night jam session is planned for 10:30 p.m. at the Blue Moon Cafe.

Saturday’s events include:

A showcase concert will take place at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Frank Center Theater hosted by musician and folklorist John Lilly, and featuring Good Food Dance Company, the Cheat Mountain Minstrels with Gerry and Jesse Milnes and John Rossbach, and Gospel Musician Angie Richardson. The top two bands from the string band competition will also perform in a final showdown. Tickets for the concert are $15 (general public), $10 (seniors and Shepherd staff), and free to Shepherd students with a valid Rambler ID and kids under 18.

“We really are trying to focus on promoting West Virginia traditional arts and culture,” Rachael Meads, director of the Performing Arts Series at Shepherd, said about letting children attend the concert for free. “We really want children to understand where they come from and value it.”

For more information about Shepherd University’s Appalachian Writer in Residence Project, visit to learn more about the Appalachian Heritage Festival, visit or

Audio is available HERE.

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