CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — If you’re an avid reader, you probably have a favorite author whose books never disappoint. Did you know there was a day dedicated to helping you honor and support your favorite authors?
Nov. 1 is National Author’s Day. To help celebrate, here’s a list of 12 authors from West Virginia including novelists, short story writers and children’s book writers.
Most famous for his second book Rocket Boys, Hickam grew up in the little town of Coalwood, West Virginia. His memoir details the story of his life growing up in the Mountain State. According to Homer Hickam’s website, Rocket Boys has since been translated into eight languages and also released as an abridged audiobook and electronic book. Along with graduating from Big Creek High School in 1960, Hickam went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Engineering from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech) in 1964.
Hickam is also a U.S. Army veteran, serving as a First Lieutenant in the Fourth Infantry Division in Vietnam in 1967-1968 where he won the Army Commendation and Bronze Star medals. Hickam’s writing career began upon his return from Vietnam: from writing about his scuba diving adventures for a variety of different magazines to having several published novels – Homer Hickam is easily a favorite across the nation and in his home roots of West Virginia. His new book, Don’t Blow Yourself Up, is available to preorder.
Although her books may be fiction, the true details of underground coal mining in West Virginia lie deep in her books. Denise Giardina grew up in a West Virginia coal mining camp, known as Black Wolf. Her experiences are the center of two of her books, Storming Heaven and The Unquiet Earth. You can learn more about her on this list of West Virginia Women Writers.
Thompson, who was born in Parkersburg West Virginia and lived in Point Pleasant, specializes in horror and suspense books and has a number of novels in that genre. She has written almost 20 novels published from 1990 to 2020, including Just A Breath Away, Last Seen Alive and Praying for Time. One of her main inspirations is pets; her very first book she wrote as a child was about her golden retriever, and she even has a photo album of pets that she has included in her novels on her website.
Stephen Coonts grew up in Buckhannon, West Virginia, and attended West Virginia University. After he graduated, Coonts joined the Navy and went on to get his law degree and practice law in West Virginia. His first book, Flight of the Intruder, was published by the Naval Institute Press in 1986 and was on the New York Times bestsellers list for 28 weeks. After his first novel’s success, he became a full-time writer.
Coonts was also inducted into the WVU Academy of Distinguished Alumni and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters by WVU. Coonts has many other military suspense novels including his most recent release, Dragon’s Jaw.
Rajia was raised in Egypt but has been a West Virginia resident since she was 23. She attended and taught at Marshall University and currently lives in Charleston, West Virginia. Her two novels, In the Language of Miracles (2015) and A Pure Heart (2019), tackle topics such as immigration, family struggles and tragedy. Her first book was a New York Times Editor’s Choice award winner.
Originally from Huntington, West Virginia, Craig Johnson now lives in Wyoming and writes murder mystery novels inspired by his new home, but Johnson credits his West Virginia roots with helping him craft his stories. Some of his most popular books feature the protagonist Sheriff Walt Longmire; the six-season series Longmire is based on those books. Daughter of the Morning Star, the 17th book of the Walt Longmire series, and Next to Last Stand were both New York Times bestsellers.
Having published over 20 books including children’s picture books and chapter books, young adult fiction and poetry, Cynthia Rylant has a range of literature. As a child, she lived in Cool Ridge, West Virginia with her grandparents while her mother attended school. Later, she lived in Beaver, West Virginia with her mom. After graduating from high school in Beaver, she attended Morris Harvey College, which is now the University of Charleston, and then Marshall University, where she graduated.
Her book, When I Was Young in the Mountains was published in 1982, winning the American Book Award. Some of her other popular works are Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven and Newbery Medal-winning Missing May.
This resident of Wheeling, West Virginia has published 14 children’s books that have been translated and enjoyed around the world as well as several collections of poems. Harshman was named West Virginia’s 12th poet laureate in 2012.
Some of his most popular works include the children’s books Fallingwater, which tells the story of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright building his famous waterfall top building, and One Big Family which depicts the chaotic fun of a family reunion. He has been awarded the Allen Ginsburg Poetry Award, the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Poetry Prize and the Blue Lynx Prize for his poetry collection Woman in Red Anorak.
Anna Egan Smucker
Smucker has written many works of children’s literature, including coauthoring Fallingwater with poet laureate Marc Harshman. She has created a host of West Virginia inspired books such as No Star Night, a memoir about growing up in Weirton, West Virginia, Golden Delicious: A Cinderella Apple Story, Brother Giovanni’s Little Reward: How the Pretzel was Born and A History of West Virginia, a concise West Virginia history book for all ages.
Two of her books have been selected to represent West Virginia at the National Book Festival. She has also received a West Virginia artist fellowship. Smucker currently lives in Bridgeport where she writes and conducts writing workshops.
Short Story Writers
Short story author Ann Pancake grew up in Summersville and Romney, West Virginia and is currently an Appalachian fiction professor and an active member of the West Virginia University community. Her short story collections have received multiple awards including the 2000 Bakeless award for Given Ground and a Whiting Award. She has also received multiple creative writing fellowships in multiple states.
Her fiction often brings light to environmental concerns in West Virginia like her 2007 novel, Strange As This Weather Has Been, which depicts the devastation of mountaintop removal mining, and her short story collection, Me and Daddy Listen to Bob Marley, which shows the intense connection between West Virginians and West Virginia land.
Jayne Anne Philips
After growing up in Buckhannon, West Virginia, Philips published her first book of short stories at age 26. She has published several novels, including Motherkind which was the winner of the Massachusets Book Award, but is also known for being a short story writer and essayist. Her short story collections include Black Tickets and Fast Lanes. She is also a recipient of the Guggenheim and several other fellowships.
Her most recent novel, Quiet Dell, is a chilling fiction piece that follows the investigation of a Chicago mother and her children who died mysteriously.
Pinckney grew up near Lewisburg, West Virginia, and is known for implementing the grim side of Appalachian heritage into his novels and short stories. He has taught creative writing at several colleges including West Virginia University. His most famous short story collections are Town Smokes and Other Stories (1987) and Miracle Boy and Other Stories (2010). The latter contains 14 short works that tell the stories of boys and men in Appalachia with elements of supernatural folklore.
Pinckney has received a literature fellowship, two Plattner Awards for fiction from the Appalachian Heritage Magazine and a fiction grant from the Illinois Arts Council.