#ReadingWomenLeaders is a bookclub series, showcasing women leaders in every aspect of life. Prioritizing autobiographies to center the voices of the women themselves, this bookclub will read and learn about women in the areas of the arts, politics, nature, sciences, and sports, among others.
Independent bookstores and readers from around the world are welcome to participate in this free series.
In Unbowed Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai recounts her extraordinary journey from her childhood in rural Kenya to the world stage. When Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, she began a vital poor people’s environmental movement, focused on the empowerment of women, that soon spread across Africa. Persevering through run-ins with the Kenyan government and personal losses, and jailed and beaten on numerous occasions, Maathai continued to fight tirelessly to save Kenya’s forests and to restore democracy to her beloved country.Infused with her unique luminosity of spirit, Wangari Maathai’s remarkable story of courage, faith, and the power of persistence is destined to inspire generations to come.
May bookclub meeting: Sun., May 23, 3 pm EST
Cecilia Aragon is an author, air-show pilot, and the first Latina full professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle. She coauthored Writers in the Secret Garden, has worked with Nobel Prize winners, taught astronauts to fly, and created musical simulations of the universe with rock stars. Her major awards for research, and a stint at NASA designing software for Mars missions, led President Obama to call her “one of the top scientists and engineers in the country.”
The daughter of a Chilean father and a Filipina mother, Cecilia Rodriguez Aragon grew up as a shy, timid child in a small midwestern town during the 1960s. Targeted by school bullies and dismissed by many of her teachers, she worried that people would find out the truth: that she was INTF. Incompetent. Nerd. Terrified. Failure. This feeling stayed with her well into her twenties when she was told that "girls can't do science" or "women just don't know how to handle machines."
Yet in the span of just six years, Cecilia became the first Latina pilot to secure a place on the United States Unlimited Aerobatic Team and earn the right to represent her country at the Olympics of aviation, the World Aerobatic Championships. How did she do it?
Using mathematical techniques to overcome her fear, Cecilia performed at air shows in front of millions of people. She jumped out of airplanes and taught others how to fly. She learned how to fund-raise and earn money to compete at the world level. She worked as a test pilot and contributed to the design of experimental airplanes, crafting curves of metal and fabric that shaped air to lift inanimate objects high above the earth. And best of all, she surprised everyone by overcoming the prejudices people held about her because of her race and her gender.
Flying Free is the story of how Cecilia Aragon broke free from expectations and rose above her own limits by combining her passion for flying with math and logic in unexpected ways. You don't have to be a math whiz or a science geek to learn from her story. You just have to want to soar.
In Maeve Leakey’s thrilling, high-stakes memoir—written with her daughter Samira—encapsulates her distinguished life and career on the front lines of the hunt for our human origins, a quest made all the more notable by her stature as a woman in a highly competitive, male-dominated field.
In The Sediments of Time, preeminent paleoanthropologist Meave Leakey brings us along on her remarkable journey to reveal the diversity of our early pre-human ancestors and how past climate change drove their evolution. She offers a fresh account of our past, as recent breakthroughs have allowed new analysis of her team’s fossil findings and vastly expanded our understanding of our ancestors.
Meave’s own personal story is replete with drama, from thrilling discoveries on the shores of Lake Turkana to run-ins with armed herders and every manner of wildlife, to raising her children and supporting her renowned paleoanthropologist husband Richard Leakey’s ambitions amidst social and political strife in Kenya. When Richard needs a kidney, Meave provides him with hers, and when he asks her to assume the reins of their field expeditions after he loses both legs in a plane crash, the result of likely sabotage, Meave steps in.
The Sediments of Time is the summation of a lifetime of Meave Leakey’s efforts; it is a compelling picture of our human origins and climate change, as well as a high-stakes story of ambition, struggle, and hope.
The first woman to ski solo to the South Pole tells the story of what it took to get there
At home in Norway it is eight o’clock on Christmas Eve night, but ahead, at the Amundsen–Scott base that has been visible for hours, it is already early in the morning of Christmas Day when Liv Arnesen, after skiing solo for 745 miles in fifty days, finally arrives. She had been dreaming of the South Pole for most of her forty-one years, and now, even in her joy at having reached her goal in December 1994, she has to ask herself: what took you so long? In Skiing into the Bright Open, Arnesen describes the exhausting, exhilarating experience of being the first known woman to ski unsupported to the South Pole. She also answers her own question, framing her account of her historic expedition with her longtime struggle to find the freedom and confidence to follow her dreams into uncharted territory.
From her childhood in Norway to the seasons she spent working as a guide on Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, Arnesen courted the cold, and her memoir reflects the knowledge and passion for Arctic and Antarctic exploration that grew with her adventures in the wintry reaches of Norway and beyond. Tracing her path from the heroic stories of explorers like Fridtjof Nansen and Ernest Shackleton to her own solo crossing of the Greenland Ice Cap in 1992, Arnesen credits the inspiring feats of those who preceded her but also describes the obstacles—including niggling self-doubt—that tradition, convention, and downright prejudice put in her way as she endeavored to find the support and sponsorship granted to men in her field.
A tale of solitary adventure in the bleak and beautiful bone-chilling cold of Antarctica, Skiing into the Bright Open tells a story of gritty determination, thrilling achievement, and perseverance in the face of near despair and daunting odds; it is, ultimately, an object lesson in the power of a dream if one is willing to pursue it to the ends of the earth.
Kate Greene was the crew writer and second-in-command on the first simulated Mars mission for the NASA-funded HI-SEAS project. A poet, essayist, and former laser physicist, her work has appeared in multiple publications and radio shows. She’s taught writing at Columbia University, San Francisco State University, and the Tennessee Prison for Women. She lives in New York City.
Kate will be joining the Reading Women Leaders Bookclub for the second half of the bookclub meeting on August 22, 2021.
When it comes to Mars, the focus is often on how to get there: the rockets, the engines, the fuel. But upon arrival, what will it actually be like?
In 2013, Kate Greene moved to Mars. That is, along with five fellow crew members, she embarked on NASA’s first HI-SEAS mission, a simulated Martian environment located on the slopes of Mauna Loa in Hawai'i. For four months she lived, worked, and slept in an isolated geodesic dome, conducting a sleep study on her crew mates and gaining incredible insight into human behavior in tight quarters, as well as the nature of boredom, dreams, and isolation that arise amidst the promise of scientific progress and glory.
In Once Upon a Time I Lived on Mars, Greene draws on her experience to contemplate humanity’s broader impulse to explore. The result is a twined story of space and life, of the standard, able-bodied astronaut and Greene’s brother’s disability, of the lag time of interplanetary correspondences and the challenges of a long-distance marriage, of freeze-dried egg powder and fresh pineapple, of departure and return.
By asking what kind of wisdom humanity might take to Mars and elsewhere in the Universe, Greene has written a remarkable, wide-ranging examination of our time in space right now, as a pre-Mars species, poised on the edge, readying for launch.
When Shugri Said Salh was six years old, she was sent to live with her nomadic grandmother in the desert, away from the city of Galkayo. Leaving behind her house, her parents, her father’s multiple wives, and her many siblings, she would become the last of her family to learn a once-common way of life. The desert held many risks, from drought and hunger to the threat of predators, but it also held beauty, innovation, and centuries of tradition. Shugri grew to love the freedom of roaming with her goats and the feeling of community in learning the courtship rituals, cooking songs, and poems of her people. She was even proud to face the rite of passage that all “respectable” girls undergo in Somalia, a brutal female circumcision.
In time, Shugri would return to live with her siblings in the city. Ultimately, the family was forced to flee as refugees in the face of a civil war—first to Kenya, then to Canada, and finally to the United States. There, Shugri would again find herself a nomad in a strange land, learning to navigate everything from escalators to homeless shelters to, ultimately, marriage, parenthood, and nursing school. And she would approach each step of her journey with resilience and a liveliness that is all her own.
At once dramatic and witty, The Last Nomad tells a story of tradition, change, and hope.
While no purchase is necessary to participate in this bookclub, we encourage purchasing the bookclub books from these participating independent bookstores. Simply click on the logo to purchase your book from that store.