Long Beach’s Literary Women Festival of Authors is designed to balance inequity, to showcase women authors who so often go unrecognized in the male-dominated world of books.
So it’s fitting then that one of the festival’s featured authors last Saturday was writer Nathalia Holt, a woman who has dedicated herself to capturing history from the perspective of other women who have worked in traditionally manly fields.
“Women can be powerful role models for other women,” said 37-year-old Holt, a former Californian who is raising her two daughters in Boston.
“I’m passionate about sharing unheard voices in history, especially women in history who can inspire future generations,” Holt said. “Women have had incredible roles in history.”
Holt, a science writer with a Ph.D. in microbiology, is the New York Times bestselling author of the nonfiction “Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us from Missiles to the Moon to Mars.” The book was published in 2016 and details the efforts of the many women who worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, where they contributed to military rocket designs, satellites, lunar missions and other Space Race projects.
An online search of “Eleanore Francis” as a possible baby name for her first daughter was what started Holt’s self-professed obsession with the rocket girls. She’d never heard of Eleanore Francis Helin before, but was intrigued when a photograph of the woman accepting an award at NASA popped up on the screen.
“I was confused and stunned by the image,” Holt said. “I wanted to figure out who she was, and when I did, I was amazed by what I found.”
Holt’s next book, she said, would focus on the untold stories of the women writers and animators who worked for Walt Disney in the 1930s.
She said she feels honored to be selected by the Literary Women of Long Beach because of the organization’s focus on women writers and the caliber and diversity of authors the festival has featured in its 35-year history.
Other writers speaking at the 2018 Long Beach Festival of Authors this Saturday at the Long Beach Convention Center include: Lesley Nneka Arimah, “What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky;” Emily Fridlund, “History of Wolves;” Elsa Hart, “The White Mirror;” Eowyn Ivey, “To the Bright Edge of the World;” Tilar Mazzeo, “Irena’s Children;” and Pamela Paul, “My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues.”
Literary Women President Sue Foat called the festival’s expected 750 attendees a “wonderful tribe of readers” coming together to celebrate the work of a diverse set of contemporary authors.
She said the festival got its start in the early 1980s as a way to help counteract the scarcity of women authors represented on high school reading lists. Today, male writers still dominate the book world, with the latest Vida count of authors estimating that about two-thirds of those published, and the critics who review them, are men.
“It’s still a struggle to have women authors recognized,” Foat said.
To inspire future generations of women to read and write, Long Beach’s Literary Women's team of volunteers also offers scholarships for area college students to attend the festival as part of the Harriet Williams Emerging Writer Program. Seven students won scholarships this year.
And, donations collected at the event help pay for the purchase of more women-authored books at the Long Beach Public Library.
To attend future festivals, visit LiteraryWomen.org and sign up for an invitation to next year’s event.
NOTE: Ashleigh Ruhl is a Literary Women member.