Publication: October 4th 2016 by Quirk Books
Ever heard of Allied spy Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim woman whom the Nazis considered “highly dangerous”? Or German painter and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian, who planned and embarked on the world’s first scientific expedition? How about Huang Daopo, the inventor who fled an abusive child marriage only to revolutionize textile production in China?
Women have always been able to change the world, even when they didn’t get the credit. In Wonder Women, author Sam Maggs introduces you to pioneering female scientists, engineers, mathematicians, adventurers, and inventors—each profile a study in passion, smarts, and stickto-itiveness, complete with portraits by Google doodler Sophia Foster-Dimino, an extensive
bibliography, and a guide to present-day women-centric STEM organizations.
The fact that so many of women’s impact on history has been throw aside and disregarded upsets me so much. But thanks to Sam Maggs, we can educate ourselves on some of the women that changed the world. Sam clearly did a ton of research for this book and it shows. It’s extremely well written and fun to read. I’ve learned so much about history because of this book and I can’t recommend it enough.
A conversation with Sam Maggs, author of Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History
Your first book, The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy, celebrates women in geek culture. In Wonder Women, you’ve detailed the lives of some of history’s most important yet underappreciated women in STEM and beyond. Where did the idea for Wonder Women originate?
I love funny, hyperbolic Tumblr posts that casually teach you about unknown historical figures. In The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy, I originally had little chapter enders that each focused on a cool gal in history that, sadly, got cut for length, but my editor thought they’d make a great book on their own. And Wonder Women was born!
Some of the things these women accomplished—from becoming the first American woman to earn a medical degree to writing the first computer program—are truly groundbreaking. Why do you think these women’s stories are still unknown to the general public?
It may not surprise you to learn that, overwhelmingly, history has been both written and taught by a very particular type of person. It has been outrageously difficult for marginalized people to leave their mark for a variety of reasons—white men had a vested interest in promoting the success of other white men; women were simply unable to attend school and therefore their accomplishments were taken less seriously; women were unable to own property and therefore had to file patents under the names of male associates or relatives; and so on, and so on. Circumstances have been such for centuries that it was nearly impossible for women to make these sorts of advancements, let alone be remembered for them. I feel lucky to live in a time when I’m able to bring these stories to the forefront to hopefully inspire another generation of creative and brilliant women.
In addition to profiling historic figures, you also include an interview with a present-day “wonder woman” at the end of each chapter. Why did you decide to include these contemporary women?
I wanted to remind readers that these amazing discoveries aren’t just limited to the past—there are women out there breaking barriers and crossing boundaries and shattering ceilings in STEM fields right now. I need ladies to know that this could be them.
Based on your research and personal experiences, what advice would you give to young women interested in a career in a traditionally male field?
I think that you have to have confidence in yourself and in your abilities under all circumstances. There are always going to be people who doubt you—sometimes you’ll even doubt yourself. But your belief in your abilities has to be stronger and louder than the voices of those who say you can’t do it, or you shouldn’t do it. Ignore them. You’re awesome. Do whatever you want.
You’ve worn a lot of different hats—historical scholar, journalist, author, and now game developer at BioWare. How have these experiences influenced your writing?
I have met so many strong and inspiring women in each one of my careers that it boggles my mind to think that, even half a century ago, people doubted that women could be equal to men in any field. Women like Mary Sherman Morgan or Grace Hopper didn’t live hundreds of years ago; this is the mid-twentieth century we’re talking about. Even today, you see arguments about whether women should be promoted in the workplace if they’re going to have children, or if they should be able to achieve certain ranks in the military. It honestly blows my mind that we’re still having these debates, because I’ve looked up to accomplished, incredible women in each of my jobs.
Wonder Women discusses serious subject matter in a fun and accessible way. Why did you decide to use a conversational writing style for this book?
I wanted to write Wonder Women in the same way that I like to be taught history. Dry, boring textbooks make me lose focus and interest quickly (and I say this as someone with a Master’s in Victorian Literature). Instead, I always find myself more engaged with historical texts when the writer or teacher allows me to personally identify with the material, by making it as accessible as possible while still relaying all the important facts. I think it’s really easy to forget, when we look back in time, that all of these dusty-seeming historical figures really were just people; many of the gals featured in Wonder Women were barely out of their teen years when they made their contributions to the historical record. It was important to me to be able to write the book in a way that said, “Look, these women were just like you and me,” because then, I think, you’re more likely to think, “Well, maybe I could do something like that, too!”
Since the publication of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy, you’ve had the chance to speak at various conventions and have served as a voice for women in geek culture. How have these experiences affected your identity as a fangirl?
It’s very humbling to be asked to speak out on behalf of women in geek culture. Obviously I can only speak from my own experience, but if putting my voice out there helps make things even a little bit easier for other people, then I am happy to do so. Plus, I’ve met so many amazing fangirls from all walks of life. I’ve cried over letters and fanart from readers, but there’s really nothing like speaking to someone who just intrinsically understands you because of your shared experience in the geek world, regardless of age or other circumstances. It’s this really awesome bonding experience.
Wonder Women Tour
About Sam Maggs
Sam Maggs is an Assistant Writer for BioWare, and the bestselling author of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy and the upcoming Wonder Women, both published by Quirk Books and distributed by Penguin Random House.
Named “Awesome Geek Feminist of the Year” by Women Write About Comics, Sam has also been an Editor for geek girl culture site The Mary Sue, and has been published across the web and in other books about gaming and genre. She’s been interviewed about women in geek culture by everyone Vulture to The New York Times. Despite her MA in Victorian literature, Sam’s writing mostly focuses on geek culture, and (sometimes) how it intersects with being a lady.
Sam is also an accomplished on-air personality, appearing as the host of the Cineplex pre-show in front of six million Canadians a month; a frequent co-host on Teletoon; and a regular guest on MTV and Space. She’s also appeared as a regular pop culture commentator on CBC’s q, 102.1 The Edge, Newstalk 1010, and more.
Sam has appeared on or moderated nerd culture panels at San Diego Comic-Con, New York Comic Con, Emerald City Comicon, Calgary Expo, Fan Expo Canada, C2E2, and others, including speaking with super-rad guests like Ming-Na Wen, Hayley Atwell, and Steven Moffat (who insulted her to her face – she’s made it!). She would totally love to write a thing for you or appear on your thing.
Sam’s parents saw Star Wars: A New Hope twenty-four times in theatres when it first came out, and used to keep her home from school to marathon the Indiana Jones trilogy, so it’s really not her fault that she turned out the way she did. Sam mostly loves YA lit, Pacific Rim, BioWare games, Carol Danvers, and Jeff Goldblum.