Article written and originally published by Michael Pearson, IAC Communications.
When Jason Ellis met Kathleen Ann Goonan at a 2004 Georgia Tech science fiction event, he was an undergraduate at a crossroads, unsure of what his future held. By the end of their far-ranging conversation that day, Goonan had helped Ellis recall a dormant joy in teaching that set him on a path to graduate school and a fulfilling career.
“Kathy helped me become the person that I am today,” said Ellis, LMC/STAC 2006, who is now an assistant professor at the New York City College of Technology. “I try my best to follow her example as an attentive and caring mentor with my students.”
Goonan, a former Professor of the Practice in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication and a member of the LMC Advisory Board, died Jan. 28.
“Kathy was an important part of our community whose role in inspiring, mentoring, and advocating for our faculty, students, and staff cannot be overstated,” said Richard Utz, the School’s chair. “We will all miss her infectious enthusiasm, her kindness, and her love for this School.”
A perennial presence on science-fiction award shortlists dating back to her 1994 debut novel, Queen City Jazz, Goonan was a beloved member of the LMC community, said Regents Professor Lisa Yaszek.
“Kathy was one of the first women I connected with, both personally and professionally in the science fiction community. She was so supportive and generous in introducing me to people in the community,” said Yaszek, who is now one of the nation’s leading science fiction scholars.
“She was a person who really saw people. Kathy could completely put her own ego aside and see you, and that was incredible,” Yaszek said, citing the example of Ellis.
“Jason had been a computer science student who dropped out and later came back to LMC. I don’t think he felt like anyone had really ever seen him before at Georgia Tech. She did, and they talked for hours. He came to me the next day and said, ‘So, I guess I’m going to be a science fiction studies professor when I grow up.’”
As a writer hailed by Scientific American as a “shaman of the small” and by Popular Science Magazine as “one of the best minds in science fiction,” Goonan was known as a pioneer in thinking about nanoscience and nanotechnology: Queen City Jazz, a New York Times Notable Book, became the first in her celebrated Nanotech Quartet.
Goonan also was celebrated for her work writing about memory and neuroplasticity. She also was a leader in women’s cyberpunk and in developing female and feminist responses to major contemporary science fiction movements.
Some of those interests undoubtedly grew from her work as a Montessori teacher for more than a decade, including running the first integrated Montessori school in the South before launching her science fiction career.
She joined the LMC faculty in 2010 as a professor of the practice, teaching creative writing, science fiction studies, and classes that foregrounded the confluence of science, technology, and culture. She transitioned out of that role in 2015.
In 2016, she joined the School’s Advisory Board, eager to help advocate for a School she called “the humanitarian voice of Georgia Tech.”
“For six years, I have been immersed in one of the most excellent humanities programs in the nation, which is embedded in one of the most important research universities in the world. It is an exhilarating intellectual environment,” she said at the time.
Utz said Goonan was a perfect fit for the School.
“In her messages, she signed off as ‘Writer, Speaker, Futurist,’ and that combination of experience made her the perfect advisor to a unit that’s all about providing human-centered perspectives on new media and technologies,” said Utz.
Yaszek lamented the loss of Goonan’s mentorship and advocacy for the School.
“She was instrumental in working with our creative writing students, getting them into major award systems for undergraduate writing. Even after she was no longer a professor here, she continued to email and support our students. It is, in so many ways, a huge loss.”