Author Hickam Addresses Large Crowd at Friends of Library Annual Meeting

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Author Homer Hickman, center, speaks with members of the Friends of Elaine I. Sprauve Library, Elmo Rabsatt, left, and John Fuller, right.

Approximately 55 people came out to hear New York Times bestselling author and part time St. John resident Homer Hickam speak at the annual Friends of the Elaine I. Sprauve Library meeting on Friday, Feb. 17.

Hickam donated copies of each of his eight books to the library and signed copies of two of his most famous books, “Rocket Boys” and “The Keeper’s Son.”

Dr. Barry Devine also donated three copies of his book “From Island Peak to Coral Reef” to the library.

“We ran out of books,” said librarian Carole McGuinness. “People were disappointed that we didn’t have more books for sale to get autographed. But, I guess that it’s better to keep them wanting more than to have too many.”

Lifelong Writer
Hickam has been a lifelong writer who started his own newspaper, the Coalwood News, when he was in the third grade. “The newspaper went well until I wrote an article about my mom falling down in the creek,” he said. “She took away my freedom of the press, but I kept on writing.”

Hickam, who has a series of memoirs in which he relates tales from his childhood in Coalwood, West Virginia, read a passage from one of his latest memoirs, “We Are Not Afraid.”

“We had standing room only,” he said. “Everyone seemed to be very appreciative. I talked about growing up in West Virginia and did a reading.”

“I read an invocation that was written by an African American preacher in Coalwood for the Fourth of July celebration,” Hickam continued. “He spoke about how important it was knowing how to read, and I thought that it was very appropriate.”.

Dedicated to Education
Hickam and his wife, who currently live in Alabama and travel to St. John at least every three to four months, are dedicated to supporting education..

“We are big supporters of literacy and education throughout the U.S.,” he said. “I am asked to give speeches an awful lot for colleges, universities, and teachers’ gatherings. I tend to have a message about the importance of literacy, libraries and education.”

After spending a lot of time in the British Virgin Islands, the author and his wife first “officially” came to St. John in 2001, according to Hickam. .

“We were looking in the Caribbean for a place to live for a long time,” he said. “St. John was always on the top of my list. We were here in 2001 when 9/11 happened and were stuck here.”

“We had an extra week on island, which gave us the time to look at some properties,” he said. “We just fell in love with the place, and especially the people.”.

Judging by the great turnout at the Friends of the Library meeting, St. John seems to have fallen in love with Hickam as well..

Avoiding Fear
Hickam was not planning on writing another memoir, but after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York City, he felt compelled to share childhood lessons.

“I meant for ‘Sky of Stone’ to be the last in the memoir series,” he said. “But, I was on a book tour after 9/11, and talking about fear and how I had been taught to avoid it. The book uses stories from my childhood to illustrate the techniques of not being afraid.”.

The passage Hickam shared with the audience at the Friends of the Library meeting was an invocation given on the Fourth of July by Reverend Richard of Coalwood, West Virginia:

“Dear Lord, we are gathered here to celebrate not just the independence of our great land, but also the document on which it stands. There is much to admire in that document but what we best remember is this: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

To prepare for this invocation today, I have pondered long and hard these words. Most of you know that I rarely go anywhere without my Bible. It is an old Bible. It belonged to my grandfather. What you don’t know is that inside this book, I have always kept a copy of the Declaration of Independence. It also belonged to my grandfather. He believed it to be as holy as his Bible. When I was a boy, somebody once asked me if my grandfather had been a slave. I couldn’t imagine that could be true so I went to him and asked him: Grandfather, were you a slave? He said, Child, a man called me that, but I was never a slave, and do you know why? Because I could read. My mama, she taught me when that man wasn’t looking, just as her mama taught her.

When he became officially a free man, my grandfather purchased this Bible and a copy of the Declaration of Indepen-dence. He kept them both until the day he died. He left them to me.

I have come to understand my grandfather was right. No man or woman can be a slave if they can read, especially if they can read the Bible and the Declara-tion of Independence.

But that means that there are still slaves in this land. There are slaves who do not know that they have inalienable rights given to them by God, and that they also have, by the grace of the Lord, life, liberty, and the right to pursue their happiness and the happiness of their families.

They are slaves to their own ignorance. Ignorance is the ultimate slaveowner.

So on this Fourth of July, I pray a special prayer.

I pray for the day when the tyranny of ignorance will be banished all across this great land and every man, woman and child can read and understand what they read.

I pray for that day.

I pray every day for that day.”