Kathy Sawyer Papers

Identifier: MSS.0885

Scope and Contents

The Kathy Sawyer Papers are composed of 23.3 linear feet of research, writings, interviews, correspondence and photographs from her career in journalism. The dates of the collection are from 1965 to 2007 and contain most of the writings Sawyer produced during that period.

Personal Information: Includes notes, photos, and clippings from newspaper coverage of Sawyers life events including marriage, injury, and awards.

Human Space Flight, 1986-2000: Includes notes, documents, interviews, pictures, and reports regarding Sawyer’s research around human space flight. Extensive notes from Sawyer’s interviews with Neil Armstrong and the International Space Station are included in this section. The Moon, 1994-1998: Includes notes, documents, interviews, pictures, and reports regarding Sawyer’s Moon research.

Mars, 1992-2001: Includes notes, documents, interviews, pictures, and reports regarding Sawyer’s Mars research.

Jupiter, 1995-2000: Includes notes, documents, interviews, pictures, and reports regarding Sawyer’s Jupiter research.

Neptune/Saturn/Pluto, 1997-2000: Includes notes, documents, interviews, pictures, and reports regarding Sawyer’s research on the outer planets.

Asteroids, 1991-2001: Includes notes, documents, pictures articles, and reports regarding Sawyer’s asteroid research.

Extra Solar/Cosmology, 1992-2000: Includes notes, documents, pictures, and reports regarding Sawyer’s research around cosmology and planets.

Climate Change, 1993-1996: Includes notes, documents, and reports regarding Sawyer’s research on weather and climate change, including coverage of the weather at the 1996 Olympics.

Health, 1994: Includes notes, documents, interviews, and reports regarding Sawyer’s research on the NIC’s clinical trials.

Freelance: Includes notes, documents, interviews, pictures, reports, and scripts regarding Sawyer’s work for ABC, National Geographic, and others.

Articles, 1974-2007: Includes clippings of articles written by Sawyer as well as clips and bylines for Pulitzer.

The Washington Post , 1975-1999: Includes full issues of the Washington Postcontaining articles written by Sawyer.

Audio/Visual, 1998-2003: Includes cassettes, microcassettes, VHS tapes, CDs, and slides with interview recordings, debates, conferences and hearings as well as images.


  • 1965 - 2007

Language of Materials


Biographical Sketch

Soon after graduating from Vanderbilt University (BA ’64), Kathy began her journalism career as a feature writer for The Tennessean. She covered the music industry and a wide variety of other subjects. In 1970, she won the National Headliner Award for Best Domestic News Reporting for coverage of topics as varied as the war in Vietnam and East Tennessee chicken catches.

In 1976 Kathy went to work as a staff writer for The Washington Post. In 28 years at the paper, Kathy covered politics, social issues, and the federal government, among other topics. She left the paper in 2004. For her final 17 years there, she focused on space science and technology, beginning with the 1986 Challenger accident that killed seven astronauts. Her work has also been published in magazines such as National Geographic and Astronomy. She tracked space science on subjects from human space flight, to planets, to the use of satellites to monitor climate change. Twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, her honors include the David N. Schramm Award for journalism (1999), given by the American Astronomical Society. In 1992, Sawyer became the first woman to win the National Space Writer of the Year Award. In 2007, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, the nation’s premier scientific advisory body, selected her book, The Rock from Mars: A Detective Story on Two Planets (Random House, 2006), as one of the three best books of the year.

Kathy has appeared as a guest on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” PBS’s “Lehrer News Hour” and “Washington Week,” and in news programming on C-Span and other TV outlets, as well as on radio programs such as NPR’s “Diane Rehm” show. She has also served the journalistic and scientific communities alike by participating in various industry panels and award committees.

In order to give readers a visceral sense of the events she writes about, Kathy has made parachute jumps, flown weightless aboard NASA’s “vomit comet” aircraft used to train astronauts, flown through the eye of a killer hurricane aboard a research plane, and is one of few journalists to make a deep ocean dive aboard the three-person Alvin submersible vessel in order to see oases of strange life thriving on the sunless floor of the Pacific.

Throughout their 34 years of marriage, Kathy and her husband John Atkisson, a trial lawyer, enjoyed sailing their boat Kestrel, a 32-foot sloop, in the waters of Chesapeake Bay and environs, and sometimes further. Kathy, John and their cat Beacon were at home on Capitol Hill on February 19, 2010, when John died of lung cancer.


23.3 Linear Feet

Physical Location

Offsite Storage, Special Collections & Archives


This collection was donated by Kathy Sawyer in 2012 with additions in 2015, 2016, and 2018.

Copyright Information

Permission to publish, copy, reprint, digitize, orally record for transmission over public or private airways, or use material from the Kathy Sawyer Papers in any and all other current or future developed methods or procedures, must be obtained in writing from the Special Collections and University Archives Division of the Vanderbilt University Libraries. All rights are reserved and retained regardless of current or future development or laws that may apply to fair use standards.

Finding Aid for the Kathy Sawyer Papers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Vanderbilt University Special Collections Repository

Jean and Alexander Heard Library
419 21st Avenue South
Nashville TN 37203 United States


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