In 2010, Margot Lee Shetterly, the author of Hidden Figures, was sitting in her parents’ home, catching up with her dad about some of his co-workers at NASA Langley Research Center, many of whom were black female scientists. “Why haven’t I heard this story before?” Shetterly’s husband asked.
It was then that she realized there were probably many people who didn’t realize the crucial role that women—and black women in particular—played in the early days of American space exploration. Not long after that, she wrote a book, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race, about the first African American women at NASA; it won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work and was adapted into an Oscar-nominated movie in 2016.
I recently spoke with Shetterly about working on Wall Street, dealing with restlessness on the job, and matching one’s temperament to a profession. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Lolade Fadulu: What did your parents do?
Margot Lee Shetterly: My mom taught English at Hampton [University]. My dad worked at NASA; he’s a retired research scientist. He spent his entire career as an atmospheric research scientist at NASA Langley. I grew up in Hampton, [Virginia,] and the women that I wrote about were people I knew growing up. That NASA connection was very much a part of my life from the very beginning.