A stunning and inspiring memoir charting a life as an astronomer, classically-trained actor, mother, and Black woman in STEM, searching for life in the universe while building a meaningful life here on Earth
As a kid, Aomawa Shields was always bumping into things, her neck craned up at the sky, dreaming of becoming an astronaut. A year into an astrophysics PhD program, plagued by self-doubt and discouraged by a white male professor who suggested that she—a young Black woman who also loved fashion, makeup, and the arts—didn’t belong, she left astronomy and pursued acting professionally for a decade, before a day job working for NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope drew her back to the stars. She was the oldest and the only Black student in her PhD cohort. This time, no professor, and no voice in her own head, would stop her. Now an astronomer and astrobiologist at the top of her field, Dr. Shields studies the universe outside our Solar System, researching and uncovering the planets circling distant stars with just the right conditions that could support life—while also using her theater education to communicate the wonder and magic of the universe with those of us here on Earth. But it’s been a journey as winding and complex as the physics she has mastered.
Life on Other Planets is a journey of discovery on this world and on others, a story of creating a life that makes space for joy, love, and wonder while being driven by one of our biggest questions: Is anybody else out there? It is about the possibility of living between multiple worlds and not choosing—but instead charting a new path entirely.
About the Author
Aomawa Shields is an astronomer, an astrobiologist, the Clare Boothe Luce Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California, Irvine, and a classically-trained actor. She was named a 2015 TED Fellow and is the recipient of the NSF CAREER Award and a NASA Habitable Worlds program grant, among others. She is the founder and director of Rising Stargirls, a program dedicated to encouraging girls of all colors and backgrounds to learn, explore, and discover the universe using theater, writing, and visual art. She lives with her husband and daughter in Southern California.
"Astronomer Shields chronicles her trials and triumphs as a scientist, actor, and Black woman in her luminous debut...stirring and inspirational. This will resonate with dreamers of all stripes."
"A memoir about the cosmos and about ourselves. Aomawa Shields...[is] an astrobiologist and an astronomer who we all can't help but cheer for in this stunning reflection on everything universal, even the truth."
—Zibby Owens, Good Morning America
"Shields’s powerfully personal book tells the story of a Black woman with two passions finding her place in the world...We may or may not be alone in the Universe, but Shields makes a case for togetherness, with each other and within ourselves."
“Shields' unusual and inspiring account will appeal to readers who feel stuck in life. Discussing relatable issues like making decisions, financial worries, and imposter syndrome while she shares her approach to achieving lofty goals, Shields' words will reassure readers who question their abilities when success seems elusive.”
"A lyrical, image-rich investigation of an unconventional blueprint for authentic living."
"Shields took my breath away with her candor on these pages. An inspiring account of the struggles of a hero who is both scientist and artist.”
—Ann Druyan, writer, director, and producer of COSMOS
"A riveting memoir of crossroads, choices, and triumph. I could not put this book down. Shields is an astronomer whose writing miraculously feels like the night sky itself - vast, elegant, luminous."
—Tara Mohr, author of Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create and Lead
“This book is so good, so gorgeously written, covering with integrity so much: being smart, scared, taking your power, humor, family, being different and the same, science, stars, sky, being a woman, being black; it is a triumph and a pleasure. It compels the reader to learn more about the planets, and how to stretch our unlimited capacity to live fully in this universe."
—Natalie Goldberg, author of Three Simple Lines and Writing Down the Bones