Robert Coram’s career as a writer began in Edison, GA, a town of about 1200 located deep in the southwestern part of the state. Edison is a farming town. Most young people leave as soon as possible and take up a variety of careers. Coram is the only person from Edison ever to become a professional writer.
Coram was hired as a reporter for The Atlanta Journal when he was a sophomore in college. Like many who suddenly discover their life’s work, he was enthusiastic and prolific. He was a general assignment reporter but also wrote features, book reviews, travel stories, and aviation stories. He covered the civil rights movement in Atlanta during the 1960s and he wrote freelance magazine articles; first for the then-new Atlanta Magazine, then for aviation publications, then for national magazines.
He led a movement to unionize the reporting staff of the paper and for that he was fired. He said that was the most painful moment of his life, first because he had been fired from what he considered the best job in the world and, second, because the newspaper said the real reason he was fired was that he tricked a prominent politician into telling the truth about a controversial news issue.
It is better to be fired from a job when young than when old as it toughens one up.
For several years Coram wrote for McGraw-Hill publications out of the Atlanta bureau. He covered the early days of the environmental movement and he covered the civil war in Biafra.
Then came a year as press secretary to former Georgia governor Carl Sanders during the gubernatorial campaign against a peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter. The other guy won.
Coram spent four years as a staff writer for Atlanta Magazine. Then he moved to Cumberland Island, an island off the Georgia coast. The first year he was a house sitter and the second year he was a ranger for the National Park Service. Thus, he is one of the few writers who also has been a federal officer. During his two years on Cumberland he wrote for Sports Illustrated and did several travel pieces for the Sunday New York Times.
He returned to Atlanta in the mid-1970s and resumed his freelance career. He wrote a media column, the first in Atlanta, for the weekly Atlanta Gazette.
A piece he wrote for Esquire in 1976 was the first piece about narcotics trafficking in a national magazine. The latter part of the 1970s he traveled extensively in Colombia, Jamaica, the Turks & Caicos Islands, the Bahamas, and south Florida, writing about narcotics trafficking.
These articles resulted in his being asked to become a reporter for The Atlanta Constitution. The first year he received a Pulitzer Prize nomination for his stories about drug smuggling. The second year he covered the war in El Salvador. He received another Pulitzer Prize nomination for a series of articles that stopped the National Park Service from developing Cumberland Island. The third year he was fired by a new assistant managing editor who said Coram’s interviewing techniques were too aggressive.
Coram now had the unique distinction of having been fired from both The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution. The two papers later merged, so his feat can never be duplicated.
While he was at the paper he became a part-time instructor at Emory University and taught writing courses there for 12 years.
He also resumed his freelancing and, at the same time, began writing books. He wrote five books before he published his first one. The five were not proposals nor were they a few chapters; they were 400-page manuscripts. That they were not published he considers proof God is sometimes merciful toward the reading public.
Signet published his “Narcs” series. These three books were based on his experiences writing about drug smuggling. Then came four police novels based in Atlanta. Woven among the novels were three non-fiction books: an investigative book about Antigua, a book about an Irish woman who works in Saigon with street children, and a fishing book for National Geographic.
As the 1990s drew near the end, Coram looked back over his books. He said that writing 10 books in 10 years was both good and bad: good in that it showed a certain professionalism, bad in that rarely are lasting books written at such a speed. Not only were his novels written quickly, they sat records for the speed at which they were remaindered. One of his non-fiction books was a best-seller in the United Kingdom but sold poorly in America.
Coram decided the world could survive without his fiction and returned to his non-fiction roots when he began researching a biography of John Boyd, a project that took almost three years. “John Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War” was published by Little, Brown & Company in November, 2002.
Not only did BOYD change the course of Coram’s career, success of the book was such that Little, Brown gave Coram a two-book contract, and the contract stipulated that both books would be military biographies. The first was “American Patriot: The Life and Wars of Colonel Bud Day.” The second is a biography of LtGen Victor Brute” Krulak was published in late 2010.
Today Coram lives on the Central Coast of Georgia.
When Coram is not writing, he is fly fishing on the Georgia coast.