Author of “Hidden Figures”speaks in Dana

Margot Lee Shetterly (left), talks to Lea E. Williams (right) about her book, “Hidden Figures.” The event is part of the One City, One Book program put on by the Greensboro Public Library every two years. //Photo By Andrew Walker 2017/ The Guilfordian

“It just kept grabbing me,” said author Margot Lee Shetterly of writing “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race.”

“Every clue led to something else and made me more curious. So in a sense, I had to finish it because I wanted to read this story.”

People from all over the Greensboro area came to hear Shetterly speak in Dana Auditorium at Guilford College on Thursday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m.

The event was held by The Greensboro Public Library’s program One City, One Book.  The program encourages the Greensboro community to read the same book and offers events related to the chosen reading including author presentations, film screenings, workshops and panel discussions.

This year for the first time, the Greensboro Public Library introduced public voting so locals could be involved in the selection process for the book. Social media was used for public voting. Greensboro Public Library received over 500 votes that showed a large interest in “Hidden Figures,” a #1 New York Times best-selling work of nonfiction, which inspired the Oscar-nominated film adaptation of the same name.

In addition to voting, social media was used to share information about events for the One City, One Book program. Many attendees first heard about Shetterly’s appearance at Guilford through social media.

“I think I first heard about this event through Facebook,” said attendee Heather Cooper of Greensboro. “I haven’t seen the movie and I haven’t read the book, so I wanted to see the author and get insight into some of the differences between the two.”

Regardless of how familiar attendees were with Shetterly’s story, all were welcomed at the event where they learned about research and writing processes behind “Hidden Figures.” The book tells the true story of three African-American women who worked at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and played pivotal roles in the launch of John Glenn to orbit around the Earth.

“I found a literary agent, I made a book proposal and I knew that I would finish it,” said Shetterly. “I didn’t really know how exactly, I didn’t know how long it would take … There were lots of twists and turns, but once I really started working on it, it turned into a story that I had to tell.”

Lea E. Williams, an author, independent scholar and educator who lives in Greensboro, was the moderator for the event. Williams’ books include “We Who Believe in Freedom: The Life & Times of Ella Baker” and the first and second editions of “Servants of the People: The 1960s Legacy of African American Leadership.”

As an author, Williams’ questions for Shetterly provided the audience with a writer’s insight into the making of “Hidden Figures.”

From the discussion, the audience learned that Shetterly spent six years conducting interviews and research in order to get a complete story for her book. Despite the long and involved process, Shetterly was determined to finish “Hidden Figures.”

At the end of the discussion between Shetterly and Williams, attendees were given a chance to participate by asking questions to Shetterly. Shetterly stayed after the event for a book signing session open to the public. Despite the long lines that went out into the street, Shetterly signed every book and greeted everyone she met with a smile.

“I had already seen the movie,” said Greensboro resident Tara Baker-Dalton. “So to have the opportunity to get the book and see the author motivated me to come.”

Inside the doors of Dana Auditorium, Scuppernong Books set up a table where they sold hardback copies and young reader’s editions of the book. This allowed attendees who did not yet own a copy of “Hidden Figures” to have a chance to obtain their own copy and have it signed by Shetterly. Only a few copies of the young reader’s edition of “Hidden Figures” were left by the end of the event.

The Greensboro Public Library’s One City, One Book program allowed the Greensboro community to recognize the story of the African-American female computers and mathematicians at NASA. Additionally, Shetterly was able to encourage her young female readers to follow their ambitions.

“Women can make a difference,” said Shetterly. “They can be engineers and they can be mathematicians and they can be anything they set their mind to.”