A Classmate Remembers Kathleen Ann Goonan
Kathleen Ann Goonan (CW ’88) died on January 28, 2021, at the age of 68. She was the award-winning author of more than forty short stories and seven novels. Her first novel, Queen City Jazz (1994), a New York Times Notable Book, was short-listed for the British Science Fiction Association Award. Her novel In War Times (2007) won the Campbell Memorial Award and was the American Library Association’s Best SF Novel of 2007. Three of her works earned Nebula Award nominations. She returned to Clarion West as an instructor in 2003 and taught at Georgia Tech for the better part of a decade, starting in 2010.
Kathy was thirty-six, on the cusp of breaking in as a published author when she attended Clarion West ’88. You could see the kind of writer she would become — the passion for looking behind things instead of just at the surface, the curiosity, the elegance of the prose. I didn’t know her well, not yet. There wasn’t much time to get to know her at Clarion West, because she had to leave mid-session. But I did know that she was kind and down-to-earth, that her critiques were invariably helpful and constructive, that she had a beautiful laugh.
Later I got to know her much better. We corresponded. I brought my infant son to her house in Lakeland, Florida, for our first post-Clarion visit. I met her at WorldCon, visited her and her husband Joseph several times at their house in the Smoky Mountains. You could talk about so many things with Kathy: birds and politics, science and books, flowers and pets, music and cooking, education and art. She was generous and funny, wise and kind. I cannot remember ever hearing her say anything unkind about anyone. She loved children and was fascinated by child development and education (she was a Montessori teacher and had had her own school) and particularly by children who perceived differently. She saw possibility where others see disability — this was also true in the way she saw the world. She was fascinated by the physics of consciousness and enjoyed discussing the books of Roger Penrose. She had a workshop on the top of the small mountain where they lived where she painted in watercolors. She planted flowers. Read constantly. Never stopped learning. Throughout her life, she traveled extensively and even wrote travel articles; she was the person to ask if you were writing about an exotic place. As a teacher (she taught at Georgia Tech for several years, as well as at Clarion West), she was devoted and conscientious, and when critiquing, she phrased her suggestions and criticisms in the nicest possible way, especially when she had to say something difficult. She was a thoughtful friend.
So much about Kathy is revealed in her work. Her books are atmospheric and layered. Sometimes they’re historical (The Bones of Time, In War Times, This Shared Dream), sometimes renditions of a future of hopeful and terrible beauty (The Nanotech Quartet). Her more recent short fiction shows her optimism, her love of music, her belief in the abilities of unusual children. There’s quantum physics in her work, and her beloved Hawaii, and almost always the opportunity to change.
During our last visit, we sat on a mountaintop with pets and friends and family and painted in the watercolors that Kathy had brought while we waited for darkness to fall in mid-afternoon. There was a sense of wonder. An awesome hush. The eclipse was total, but — to our surprise — the light never completely went out. Neither will Kathy’s, so long as there are people to read her books and people to remember. We’ll miss you, Kathy.
A virtual Memorial Service will be held on Sunday, March 7, at 3pm EST. To register for the Memorial, please go to: https://bit.ly/3q1RO39.