Ever since his memoir, Rocket Boys, ascended bestseller charts in 1998 and inspired the 1999 film October Sky, audiences have been lapping up the quintessentially American tale of Homer Hickam Jr., and his journey from coal miner's son to NASA scientist. Now as part of the 2009 All Pikes Peak Reads program, which features the book, Hickam will share his story with local fans.
"We've had tons and tons and tons of calls asking, 'How can we see him?'" says Beth Fox-Kret, the Pikes Peak Library District's APPR program coordinator.
Hickam's lined up for two public appearances: a keynote speech at a pricey fundraising dinner with NASA astronauts, and a public speech and booksigning at Challenger Middle School, in conjunction with a Colorado Springs Rocket Society launch event. But Fox-Kret notes that "as part of his agreement to come here, he asked to spend 50 percent of his time in front of teachers and students.
"Because of his significant relationship with his science teacher, who helped get him where he was, that's who he wanted to meet with."
(Another major source of inspiration for Hickam was his mother, Elsie Gardener Hickam. Upon learning that she died early in October, the Indy rescinded its request for an interview with the author.)
So Hickam will be spending a good chunk of time at area schools. Though some such appearances won't be open to the public, local audiences will have a chance to hear his speech, "Turning Dreams Into Reality," from Mitchell High School by tuning in to Comcast station 16 at 1:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 24.
Fox-Kret says she's been impressed with how Hickam's story is already inspiring local students, one Mitchell freshman in particular.
"She's read the book, and Homer Hickam has been her hero," Fox-Kret says. "She wasn't among the science students invited to the speech, she's just a regular student. But when she heard that Homer Hickam was going to be there, she went to the head of the science department and made her case, saying, 'Is there any way I can get in to see him?'
"Well, they said, 'Yes, we'll do one better. You're going to present him.'"