Statistically, there's no accounting for Jessica Goodfellow's life in Japan. The daughter of an engineer, on a fast track in her early 20s to a Ph.D. in economics at California Institute of Technology, Goodfellow realized something essential didn't correlate: her incalculable love of poetry.

Goodfellow, 45, started writing before she could even spell. "I used to say to my mom, 'Write this down, write this down,' and I would recite poems, usually rewritten nursery rhymes, where I would change the words to what I wanted or what I thought it should be, but with the rhythm of the rhyme behind it."

By the time she entered grade school, Goodfellow also showed a talent for math. "Since it was unusual for a girl to be gifted in math, I was encouraged to study it above everything else." Yet, her early love of words grew exponentially, and by the time Goodfellow was in high school she won honorable mention in a nationwide poetry contest, receiving a cash prize and the publication of her work.