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Winston Groom was born in Washington, D.C., and was raised in Baldwin County, Alabama, where he attended University Military School (now known as UMS-Wright Preparatory School). Groom's earliest ambition was to become a lawyer like his father; but, instead, while a literary editor in college, he chose to become a writer. Groom attended the University of Alabama, where he was a member of Delta Tau Delta Fraternity and the Army ROTC, graduating in 1965. He served in the Army from 1965 to 1969, including a tour of duty in the Vietnam War.
Upon his return from Vietnam, he worked as a reporter for the Washington Star, a Washington, D. C., newspaper covering police and courtroom activities. Groom retired from journalism at age 32, and began writing his first novel Better Times Than These which was published in 1978. Better Times Than These was about a group of patriotic soldiers in the Vietnam War whose lives and patriotism both are shattered. His next novel As Summers Die (1980) received better recognition. His novel Conversations with the Enemy (1982) follows an American Vietnam War soldier who escapes from a POW camp and takes a plane back to the United States only to be arrested fourteen years later for desertion. Conversations with the Enemy was a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction finalist in 1984.
In 1985, Groom moved back to Mobile, Alabama, where he began to work on the novel Forrest Gump. Forrest Gump was published in 1986; however, it did not make Groom a best-selling author until it was adapted into a film with the same name in 1994, a film starring Tom Hanks in the title role of Forrest Gump. The film propelled the novel to best-seller status, and the novel sold 1.7 million copies worldwide.
Groom devotes his time to writing history books about American wars. He has lived most recently in Point Clear, Alabama, and Long Island, New York, with his wife Anne Clinton and daughter, Carolina. Groom was an old friend of writer Willie Morris, dating to their days together in Bridgehampton, Long Island, New York.
In November 2011, Groom introduced his latest history book, Kearny's March: The Epic Creation of the American West, 1846-1847. Groom describes how Kearny’s quest for westward adventure coincides with the expansionist desires of the U.S. President, James K. Polk. Anchored in mid-summer 1846, the context for both the adventures and expansionism is the Texas Annexation from Mexico, the Mexican-American War, and the backdrop to the American Civil War. Just as in the film adaptation of Groom’s book Forrest Gump, where Gump is introduced through the technology of production company Industrial Light & Magic to a cast of celebrities including a young Elvis Presley, President John F. Kennedy, and President Richard Nixon, Groom weaves into Kearny’s March mountain man Kit Carson, Brigham Young and his Mormon followers, and members of the Donner party.