Doenges Author Encourages Writing for ‘Small Moments’

October 6, 2010

Sometimes, you just know what you have to do as your life’s work.

“I have spent my entire professional life writing,” says internationally acclaimed science author Dava Sobel. She segued straight from earning her degree at State University of New York at Binghamton to work as a technical writer for IBM, then into freelance writing and a stint at The New York Times. That position quickly pushed her resume to the top of the pile when she went back to freelance work a few years later.

Whether in appearances on C-SPAN, National Public Radio, the “Today” show, or for a smaller audience like that at Mary Baldwin University, Sobel is eager and honored to share her journey of words. As the college’s 2010–11 Elizabeth Kirkpatrick Doenges Visiting Artist/Scholar, she will challenge students to become astute researchers, observers, and writers, regardless of their field of study.

“They should know that science is open to English majors, too,” Sobel said.

Sobel will interact with students in history, science, gender studies, and English courses October 11–14, in addition to delivering an evening lecture open to the wider community on October 12.

Sobel’s public lecture will take her audience back more than a decade to the process of writing her second novel, Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love. The book, which was conceived using the 124 surviving letters between Galileo and his eldest child, earned the 1999 Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in biography. The book is an example of Sobel’s knack for revealing the living, breathing people behind significant scientific discoveries, as she did in her bestselling breakout novel, Longitude, which is still in print after 15 years.

“Her ability to perceive Galileo’s world through the eyes of his daughter, particularly with regard to his interactions with the church, will capture students’ interest from many different angles,” said Associate Professor of Biology Paul Deeble, who helped coordinate Sobel’s visit.

When she returns to campus in the spring, Sobel will lead a three-week May Term course focused intensively on writing. In the interim, she plans to finish her current project — a stage play based on Nicolaus Copernicus’ struggle to defend the Earth’s motion around the sun — and be working on something new, starting from the same point as the students in her class.

A graduate of Bronx High School of Science, Sobel attended Antioch College and the City College of New York before receiving her bachelor of arts degree from SUNY Binghamton. She holds honorary doctor of letters degrees from University of Bath, in England, and Middlebury College.

In 2001, Sobel earned the Individual Public Service Award from the National Science Board and the Boston Museum of Science’s prestigious Bradford Washburn Award. She has spoken at The Smithsonian Institution, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Folger Shakespeare Library, and The New York Public Library, among other engagements.