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Letters About Literature National Winners 2018

National Winner, Level 1: Akosua Haynes

Dear Margot Lee Shetterly,

On August 21, 2017 I felt so lucky because it was the first day of school, and my friends were in class while I was watching the solar eclipse in Carbondale, Illinois. When the moon had completely covered the sun, I looked up and wondered how Katherine Johnson felt when she helped John Glenn orbit the earth. Reading your book “Hidden Figures” made me more excited about becoming a NASA astronaut, but it also made me question my career choice. It scared me when I read that a fireball entered into a spaceship killing all three astronauts inside. Becoming an astronaut had been my dream, I met Mae Jemison when I was four and have dressed up as an astronaut for at least four Halloweens, but I didn’t want to die in a ball of flames.

I finished your book on the train ride back from Carbondale just five days before my “Hidden Figures” themed birthday party. I made up a rule, and told my friends that if they wanted to come they had to read at least two thirds of your book so that we could have an interesting discussion. I asked everyone to share their favorite passage. When it was my turn everyone read my selection, on page 217, aloud. Learning that John Glenn trusted Katherine Johnson with his life, because of her superior math skills, motivated me to take my own math homework more seriously. I love math but some of my friends don’t. I wanted them to read your book to see the magic in math and how useful it can be. Right before my party I looked up the definition for analytic geometry because Katherine used it to calculate the trajectory of John Glenn’s Mercury capsule—useful magic!

Although John Glenn respected Katherine Johnson, they lived in two different worlds. When I read about the discrimination that Katherine and the computers had to put up with (people not trusting them and separate bathrooms), it made me think what it would have been like to live in the Jim Crow time period. I asked myself if I would have been able to work so well under pressure. I felt proud of Ms. Johnson.

There are many more opportunities for African Americans today because of what Katherine Johnson and the other computers accomplished. They blazed a path for the next generation. My friends thanked me for choosing your book to celebrate my birthday. I know that I can still be an astronaut, an astrophysicist, or have a space career on earth!


Akosua Haynes