Place, Rhythm, and Tragedy in Homer Hickam’s ‘Coalwood’ Trilogy

Authors: Jessey Gilley*, Lincoln Memorial University
Topics: Cultural Geography, Historical Geography
Keywords: place, tragedy, rhythm, rhythmanalysis, sense of place
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Roosevelt 4, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper examines historical geographies of place and tragedy in West Virginia’s southern coalfields through a rhythmanalysis of Homer Hickam’s “Coalwood” trilogy. Like many industrial regions, West Virginia’s southern coalfields were replete with complex senses of place that were both positive and negative. In his series of three memoirs including The Rocket Boys, The Coalwood Way, and Sky of Stone, Hickam recounts growing up in the company town of Coalwood. Hickam had a unique positionality in Coalwood. The son of the mine’s superintendent, Hickam was an elite, yet he also aspired to leave the town and coal mining to pursue a career in rocket science. Hickam frequently reflects on the role of rhythm in creating senses of place at scales ranging from his house to the community on the surface and the mines underground. Tragedy strikes when the usual, mundane rhythms are suddenly altered. Miners die or get injured. Families face trying times. By focusing on the concept of rhythm, the intersection of movement and time, this research unpacks tragedies of place and acknowledges that place is complex. Places can be both feared and loved.

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