Corey Hodge speaking at his UT commencement ceremony

Corey “Legend” Hodge, 24, has collected an impressive list of accomplishments – salutatorian of his high school graduating class, recipient of a full scholarship to the University of Tennessee, honors graduate and student commencement speaker, accomplished African drummer, social activist, founder of college scholarship fund for inner-city students.

Now he can add another title to the list: award-winning author.

Hodge’s self-published novel, “As the Sun Smiles,” has been named recipient of the 11th annual National Indie Excellence Award for African-American fiction. The book is a short (194-page) dystopian novel that imagines what would happen if war came to America. It is available on Amazon.com.

“When you think of the apocalypse, a lot of people seem to think about zombies. In this book it’s the reaction of individuals when war comes to ourselves. It’s an implosion, with a twist at the end,” Hodge said.

A young Corey Hodge and his mom in Fountain City Park.

The book is dedicated to the memory of his mother, Arvene Darlene Hodge-Hawes, longtime secretary at Vine Middle Magnet School who died when he was 14 years old. He credits her for instilling his work ethic and drive to succeed.

In the summer of 2007, Hodge came down with meningitis and five brain abscesses, and was fighting for his life at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital when he got the news that his mother had died from a sudden, massive stroke.

“I didn’t run from the pain. I let it flow through me. I included her funeral in the book – I left the hospital with a port connected to the vein in my arm to go to her funeral. I stayed in (the hospital) another two or three weeks.”

He went to live with his Aunt Chyrall and kept on striving.

“My mother definitely expected a lot from me. She did not accept excuses. I made two Cs the whole time I was in school – one in the second grade and one in college, ironically, I guess, in public speaking.”

Today, Hodge is a Project Grad counselor at Whittle Springs Middle School. He recently entered graduate school to become a teacher and is always looking for ways to inspire students the way his mother inspired him.

“I do a lot of events for students, families and communities – some informal, some very formal. I started a bow tie club, for example, trying to show a positive image of a young black man from an urban community. When I finished the book, it was amazing what the students I worked with thought. Such a thing as writing a book never crossed their minds – ‘You wrote a book? You actually did that yourself?’

“I wanted to show them, if I can do it, what does that mean you can do?’ I want to influence kids.”

Hodge said he meditates every morning and night, and planned much of his book out in his head before he wrote it.

“I wrote the book last summer. I’m very disciplined. Every morning when I woke up, I was down at Starbucks and would write at least three pages. Sometimes I’d simply write what I saw in my head (when I meditated). On those days, it would take an hour to write three pages, on other days, five hours. Three pages was my minimum. I had the manuscript done by the end of July, and sent it off to get edited.

Chris Smith Jr., Corey Hodge and Shannon Cozart Jr. Smith, a graduate of Fulton High School, and Cozart, a graduate of Austin-East, are the first two Legends of Knoxville Scholarship winners.

Hodge kicked off his Legends of Knoxville Scholarship this year, and next year will provide two $500 college scholarships to Austin-East graduates, plus one to a Fulton graduate. He plans for this to be an annual event. A portion of the scholarship fund will come from donations; most of it from his own savings.

July 12 was his mother’s birthday, and Hodge spent the evening in Fountain City Park, playing his drum in her honor, remembering the days when she took him there as a child.

“I tell people all the time I’m trying to move mountains, trying to get the faith of, not a mustard seed, but of a boulder, to see what I can do with that.”

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Written by Betty Bean