BIG STONE GAP — Local author and columnist Howard Cummins of Clintwood held a book signing for his newest work, “Views from the Mountains to the People in the Valleys,” at The Lonesome Pine School and Heritage Center in Big Stone Gap this past Saturday.
His newest book is a compilation of short stories, where he recalls his childhood and upbringing, and memories with his family.
A Dunbar native, Cummins grew up in Big Stone Gap. When he was 10, the family moved to a small farm outside of Big Stone Gap.
The stories of this book begin at the cover, as it is a photo of the oldest and youngest members of his family who were walking down the road to visit their grandmother.
“Two of these generations that were going to see another generation. And what was down that road? What was waiting for us down that road in life?” Cummins asked. At the time the photo was taken, all his siblings were still alive. Cummins said he truly felt the photo would be best suited for the cover, as he could not have written the book without his family. He has dedicated the book to the entire Cummins family.
He is brother to the late Clintwood High School football coaching legend Ralph Cummins. Sister-in-law Carolyn Cummins and nephew Chris Cummins joined the author at the event.
Cummins served in the U.S. Navy and graduated with a master’s degree from The University of Virginia in 1972. He spent several years in education teaching in Northern Virginia, Bristol and in local schools such as East Stone Gap High School and Appalachia High School. Upon retiring from teaching high school in the mid 1980s, Cummins returned home and continued to teach at Mountain Empire Community College as an adjunct instructor.
Cummins says that teaching was something he thoroughly enjoyed, and that it still inspires his writing today.
“I think it was the part of my life that gave me a lot of strength about what I write, to keep it simple, to write what I think people would like to read, and I wanted to do that in this book.” Cummins said.
The heritage center seemed a fitting location for the event, enriched with local history of the area, with more than 70,000 photos from local high schools (past and present), coal camps, surrounding counties and books written by local authors. Cummins reconnected with long-time supporters of his work, friends and even former students. Wayne Herndon, a volunteer at the center and former student of Cummins, says he was one of his best teachers, a great role model and mentor. Other former students visited Cummins and recalled their time as his students and discussed the inspiration that he instilled in them.
Cummins is currently working on his next book, “Always Earth in Sight,” which is centered around coal miners and their lifestyle. He says the title was inspired by his grandfather who had to quit college and go into the mines. When Cummins asked his grandfather what it was like in the mines, he replied, “There’s always earth in sight” because earth was above him, beside him and below him.
Cummins hopes to have his next book finished by fall and edited and released by Christmas.
For several decades Cummins has also been a featured writer for The Coalfield Progress and The Post in Big Stone Gap, and in the last few years The Dickenson Star.
His book of short stories, Views from the Mountains to the People in the Valleys, was published in January 2019.
Cummins graduated from East Stone Gap High School, spent two years in the Navy and then graduated from Lincoln Memorial University with a bachelor's degree in science and English.
Cummins returned to East Stone Gap High School and taught for two years before leaving education to work for the Foote Mineral Company for three years before returning to the field of education. He taught biology and English for six years at Appalachia High School, then spent six years at Virginia High School in Bristol, before moving to Northern Virginia where he taught Advanced Science and Humanities at Woodbridge High School in Woodbridge.
He earned his master's in education degree from the University of Virginia in 1972. While in Woodbridge he received Teacher of the Year accolades in three separate years and in 1977 was nominated to represent the Commonwealth of Virginia for National Teacher of Year.