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Literary Engineering ? Engineers And Their Creative Writings

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Liberal Education Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Liberal Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1022.1 - 12.1022.11



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Paper Authors


Tom Moran Rochester Institute of Technology

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Moran is an associate professor within the Center for Multidisciplinary Studies, College of Applied Science and Technology, at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Literary Engineering – Engineers and Their Creative Writings


The creative writing endeavors of a handful of engineers have received critical acclaim and enjoyed commercial success. These engineers have written award winning mysteries and science fiction, best-selling adventure novels and highly praised literary fiction and poetry, some of this work based on their personal experiences in the engineering world, other work seeming to have no connection whatsoever to that part of their lives. This paper provides a broad overview of some of the contemporary and past engineers who have successfully tried their hand in the world of literature and looks at the engineering school experiences of several American writers for insight on how their technical education affected their development and creativity as writer- engineers.


In a memoir titled Sky of Stone, Homer Hickam describes how his father scanned the report card his son had brought home at the start of the summer after his first year of engineering school, noting that the single “A” grade was in English, and sarcastically suggesting that his son might better pursue “literary engineering” rather than the real thing.1 Hickam finished his engineering studies and enjoyed a successful engineering career but he is best known for his “literary engineering”, in particular a narrative of the rocket launching campaign he and his friends, all the sons of West Virginia coal miners, embarked upon in the shadow of Sputnik, a story brought to the screen as the popular movie October Sky.

Hickam is not alone. Engineering has provided a starting place for a surprising number of quite successful creative writers, including poets, short story writers and novelists. These writer- engineers have won awards, gathered smash reviews and in some cases best-seller status for their literary efforts.

Several quite famous writers tried their hand at engineering school and then moved on to other endeavors and fields of study. The most famous, probably, is the renown novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, author of adventure classics such as Kidnapped, Treasure Island, and David Balfour, who spent a year at engineering school before switching to the study of law.2 An English writer, Eric Ambler, studied engineering at Northampton Engineering College (now The City University) but gave it up after three years of rather half-hearted academic effort, and went to work for the Edison Swan Electric Company.3 Ambler is considered to be a progenitor of the modern espionage novel and his work includes The Mask of Dimitrios, the Edgar winning The Light of Day (filmed as Topkapi) and The Levanter. Two of America’s most famous living novelists, Norman Mailer and Thomas Pynchon, studied engineering. Pynchon studied engineering physics at Cornell for two years before leaving to join the Navy.4 Mailer received

Moran, T. (2007, June), Literary Engineering ? Engineers And Their Creative Writings Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1652

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