Rocket Boy Update: Adult Life in Hickam’s New Book | State and region
Theater West Virginia welcomes famous writer Homer Hickam to his home Monday with an evening of storytelling, discussion and music.
The author of “Rocket Boys” and “The Coalwood Way” will be at Tamarack to discuss and sign copies of his latest book, “Don’t Blow Yourself Up: The Further True Adventures and Work of the Rocket Boy of October Sky” .
He will also appear on stage at Gov. Hulett C. Smith Theater with actress Rhaynes Thomas, who plays Hickam’s mother, Elsie, in the TWV production of “Rocket Boys: The Musical”, and with Carl Anthony Tramon, who is the star of the musical from TWV summer.
The book is a memoir of the Coalwood native’s life years from 1960 to 2000, he said Wednesday.
Although he has written books about his childhood in the Appalachians since the release of his 1998 New York Times bestseller “The Rocket Boys,” his latest memoirs are the first time Hickam has focused on his life as a adult.
âI was really scared to interfere with the original story,â Hickam explained. “I think enough time has passed to take some distance.
“That will almost end the story. Not quite. I finished it in the year 2000.”
âThe Rocket Boysâ recounted Hickam’s inspiration by launching Sputnik from 1957 to get into the rocket, against his father’s will. Hickam eventually became a NASA engineer.
The book became the 1999 Hollywood film “October Sky”, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Laura Dern.
The new book begins on the afternoon of Hickam’s last launch day, after he and his father launched the rocket together.
âDon’t Blow Yourself Upâ will share an answer to a question Hickam has been asked repeatedly in the 22 years since the release of his first book and the following film: âWhat Happened to That Boy , after all these years? ”
âI’ve heard from people who can’t quite understand what happened to this boy, and they thought I immediately went to work for NASA, but no,â Hickam said. “A lot of other things happened.”
The book, which is scheduled for release on October 26 but will be sold at Tamarack on Monday, October 25, follows Hickam as he left for the Virginia Polytechnic and State University (Virginia Tech), but then went found in northern Vietnam, fearing he had lost the dream of working at NASA.
Ultimately, Hickam would work for NASA.
Hickam said his childhood in West Virginia prepared him for success in life.
Hickam, Butch Harper and the late George Fox of the Virginia Tech class of 1964 built “The Skipper”, the gun for the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. Hickam and Fox were both West Virginia.
“It’s a rivalry,” he said of the West Virginia Mountaineers and Virginia Tech Hokies. “But they (Hokies) have to remember that the big gun they’re really proud of at Virginia Tech is mostly West Virginia.”
In 1990, Hickam traveled to Russia as a NASA engineer to negotiate aerospace opportunities with them.
Official negotiations were almost deadlocked and ended mostly in arguments, but Hickam and the Russian people connected outside the boardroom, which Hickam attributes to growing up in a coal camp in West Virginia. .
âI felt a great connection with the Russian people while I was there because they were going through really, really tough times, economically,â he said. âBeing from West Virginia, I could really understand what they were going through, and I think I was able to negotiate with the Russians from a perhaps slightly different point of view and with some emotion, where the others people from NASA, big cities and so on, I really couldn’t do it. “
Hickam also felt a connection because some of the Russian engineers at the table were the same people who started Sputnik.
âWith vodka, I used to tell them that when I was growing up in West Virginia, we built rockets which we called ‘Sputnik’,â he said. “They loved it.”
The Russians took Hickam to a warehouse where an exact replica of the Sputnik went into space was kept. The Soviet Union actually built two Sputnik rockets. Whoever remained on earth was still in Russia, and West Virginia’s “Rocket Boy” found himself watching him.
âI was like, ‘Okay, my God, if you want to strike me down with lightning right now, my life is over,'” he recalls. “‘I’m ready to go.’
âIt was like it was meant to be,â he recalls. âSomehow, I don’t know how, but somehow that West Virginia boy who started Sputnik can now see Sputnik again, almost 40 years later.
“I don’t understand, but I’m happy.”
Monday 5-7pm, Hickam will be signing copies of “Don’t Blow Yourself Up” at Gov. Hulett C. Smith Theater in Tamarack.
At 7 pm TWV Managing Director Scott Hill said: Hickam and the stars of TWV production “Rocket Boys: The Musical” will take the stage for a “mini musical”.
âIt’s 30 minutes of music and 30 or 40 minutes of Homer telling stories about the songs,â Hickam said.
The cast will sing songs from “Rocket Boys: The Musical”, and Hickam will share what the songs are about and his memories.
The author plays a vital role in “Rocket Boys: The Musical” every year and remains artistically involved. He suggested to Hill that Thomas, a black actress, play Hickam’s beloved mother, Elsie.
âI met Rhayne when we were doing the musical many years ago,â Hickam said. “She had incredible talent.
“I felt like we shouldn’t restrict these roles to one particular band, no identity, that it should be open to the most talented people to play that role, so I loved that Scott had accepted that we had Rhayne singing the role of my mother, and she does a wonderful job.
“Rhayne is just doing a great job.”
Hickam said he would “love” for a young black man to play him in future shows.
âThis is one of the great things about the musical ‘Hamilton’ that really opened it all,â he said. âIt’s really obvious that’s what you want to do. You want the best people to play (roles).
“I’m really happy that this is all happening. At the end of the day, you’re telling a story and you want to use the best people you have to help tell that story.”
Hickam said TWV is playing an important role in West Virginia. He thanked the town of Beckley for hosting the Rocket Boys Festival each year.
He’s working with Hallmark stores across the state to send deserving West Virginia children to space camp on scholarships. Hickam will be signing books at select Hallmark stores this month, and all proceeds from the book sale will be used for space camp scholarships.
Teachers who want to see the musical on Monday can attend for free, Hill said.
Local lawyer Steve New, whose mother was a teacher in Mingo County, bought tickets for the educators.
âHomer Hickam is a national and West Virginia treasure,â New, a longtime TWV supporter, said Saturday. “I am blessed to call someone I admire so much my friend.
âHomer understands, as I do, that education opens doors for children in West Virginia, which might otherwise remain closed.
âHe and I hold in high regard the coal miners who have powered this nation, and our fathers, both coal mine foremen, who worked very hard to improve the lives of their children.
“Any chance I have to help teachers or sponsor an event where teachers are honored, I will be more than happy to do so.”
Hickam will be signing copies of his new book from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday, October 25 at Gov. Hulett C. Smith Theater in Tamarack.
The mini musical will premiere on stage at 7 p.m. on Monday, October 25 at Tamarack.
Tickets cost $ 19.95.
Teachers who come to the show must ask for Hill, and their tickets will be free.