George Morgan, ’11 English

Rocketing to Renown

By Marya Jones Barlow
 
George Morgan

George Morgan has earned a lot of rave reviews since he published Rocket Girl: The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America’s First Female Rocket Scientist, the remarkable true story of his mother’s unheralded role as a heroine of the Space Race. The BBC produced a documentary on his 2013 book; Scientific American called it “a dramatic, suspenseful tale;” Publishers Weekly labeled it “a compelling read;” and the Washington Post, Slate, and Discover magazine gave it positive reviews.

But Morgan’s most cherished reviews have come from readers.

“One reader said, ‘Your book made me lose weight.’ When I asked him how that happened, he said, ‘I only read when I’m on the treadmill, and I couldn’t put it down,’” Morgan recalled. “The most gratifying comments, however, come from young women who tell me the book convinced them to go into math or science. Changing someone’s life—it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Morgan is quick to point out how his own life changed as a result of CI’s English Program. He first began writing Rocket Girl as a student in Professor Joan Peters’ non-fiction class.

“The book would not exist without the training and faculty support I received at CI,” Morgan said. “Before CI, I had no formal training as a writer and I knew I did not yet have the skills to accomplish my goal of researching and bringing forth my mother’s lost legacy.”

Rocket Girl book cover

Already the owner of a successful insurance agency, Morgan entered CI at the age of 53 with the goal of telling his mother’s story. It was a story Mary Sherman Morgan had kept well-hidden­—even from her own family—until her death in 2004. As her son reconstructed his mother’s life for her obituary, he learned she had invented hydyne, the rocket fuel that launched the nation’s first satellite, Explorer 1, and proved essential in cementing America’s role in the Space Race. However, because the information in the obituary was undocumented, the Los Angeles Times refused to publish it.

“I made a vow then and there that I would find a way to write my mother into the history books where she belonged,” Morgan said.

Morgan accomplished that and more. He’s in discussions with filmmakers about adapting the book to a screenplay. As the Playwright in Residence at CalTech, he’s created and staged a trilogy of science-themed plays, including one based on his mother’s story. He’s also the author of multiple award-winning plays, screenplays and novels. In June, he will receive his MFA from the University of California’s Palm Desert writing program. The Santa Paula resident and his wife, Lisa, have six grown children in a “yours-mine-and-ours family” and two adopted foster children.

Morgan also tours the country, promoting Rocket Girl and doing readings. In February, he returned to CI’s campus to read and discuss the book with an audience of more than 50 fans and some familiar faculty faces, including Brad Monsma, Joan Peters, Julia Balén, Luda Popenhagen and Andrea Marzell.

“Like my mother, CI’s English Program has not gotten the attention it deserves,” he said. “It’s an undiscovered gem and I predict we will see a number of successful writers being developed there. When young people ask where I think they should apply for a great university writing program, I always recommend Channel Islands.”

Learn more on Morgan’s website, www.georgedmorgan.com.

 

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© Spring 2014 / Volume 18 / Number 1