F. Rutledge Hammes is the literary version of Clark Kent — creative writing instructor by day, award-winning poet and novelist by night. "I've always felt that the most important thing an artist can do, if they love their art, is to pass it along to the next generation," Hammes says.
The 33-year-old Lowcountry native is currently a writer-in-residence and creative writing teacher at the Charleston County School of the Arts, where he has been working for four years. He also serves on the oversight board for the Lowcountry Initiative for the Literary Arts. "I love those glimmers in the students' eyes when they get a good idea or when you can see that something has gotten through to them," he says. "You know that, in a way, it's going to affect them for the rest of their lives."
Hammes worked as a teacher for a year and a half after receiving his MFA in fiction from Old Dominion University in Virginia in 2004. "I kind of fell into it after graduation," he says. He then served as a speechwriter for several United States congressmen and was a senior writer for a catalog that had a nationwide readership of more than 13 million.
He also did a stint in advertising, winning six ADDY Awards for his work as a copywriter. Despite success in the corporate world, Hammes felt unfulfilled creatively. "I felt like I was wasting my talent on selling businesses' junk to people," he says. Hammes decided to pursue his passion for teaching again, which would afford him more free time to focus on his craft.
The writer has already received critical acclaim for his work. He was awarded the Cypress Dome Fiction Award and was also a finalist for both the Montage Poetry and the Paul Laurence Dunbar Awards. He was a contributing writer to the recently published Postwar Literature 1945-1970, which is now one of Amazon's top-selling resource books. And more than 20 of his short stories, essays, articles, and poems have been published in journals across the country.
"I consider myself a poet who writes fiction," Hammes says. "Ultimately, I just want to write books that tell a great story. Something that's always been close to my heart is this idea of magic and mythology in the South, and that's something I want to get across in my novels."
His fascination with folklore and tradition — from Gullah to ghost stories — is apparent in his works of fiction. His first novel, The Haunting and Scary Frightening But Very Fantastic Adventures of the Brothers Tupot, was picked up by a literary agent who is currently in the process of selling it to a publisher. It's centered around two brothers who wake up one day to realize that their mother is missing. They then find themselves living with their Puerto Rican grandmother, who indirectly leads them to a fantasy world where their mother has been taken by an evil woman. Think Narnia, but with American mythology.
He finished his second novel two months ago. Begotten tells the story of a man whose mother tells him that he's the son of God and who lives in an area of the Tennessee valley that is about to be massively flooded. The novel made it to the semi-finals for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition.
Hammes says that he feels lucky to be able to pursue a literary career in a town that so many successful writers call home, including New York Times bestsellers and Pulitzer Prize winners. "I personally believe Charleston is one of the top three or four best writing communities as far as the amount and quality of writers that are here," he says, "and I'm including New York and L.A."