On Wednesday night, Union Ave. Books in downtown Knoxville hosted Janet Beard in celebration of her newly released book, “The Atomic City Girls.”
The event marked the second stop of Beard’s book tour promoting her novel. “The Atomic City Girls” is a coming-of-age historical fiction novel detailing the life of main character June. It begins just after she gets off the bus to work in her new home of Oak Ridge during the building of the atomic bomb.
As a native East Tennessean, Beard grew up knowing she wanted to be a writer. She graduated from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts in 1997, where she studied dramatic writing. “The Atomic City Girls” is Janet Beard’s second novel. Her first, “Beneath the Pines,” was published in 2008.
“I have always loved books and reading for as long as I can remember. I think I wrote my first short story in about third grade,” Beard said.
Growing up near Oak Ridge, Beard has known about the story of Oak Ridge since she was a little girl. She was inspired to write “The Atomic City Girls” twelve years ago, when she saw a documentary discussing the history of “The Secret City.” After seeing the documentary, she began years of tireless research to write and perfect the book, which was released earlier this month.
Through her research, she learned of her own personal connections to the history of Oak Ridge. Unbeknownst to her previously, Beard’s grandmother worked an office job for the Manhattan Project, and some of her other relatives worked in the laboratory.
During the book reading, Beard began discussing the history of Oak Ridge. She hopes that people will be able to have a more enlightened perspective of the town and region after reading the novel, especially given the typical stereotypes that surround Appalachia. Whether through her book or more research, she would like more people to be aware of the scientific laboratory that is housed in the Oak Ridge region and of the rich history that it holds.
While describing the book, Beard explained how travelling to Oak Ridge for work during the novel's setting was almost like having a college experience for lots of rural people in East Tennessee. She also illustrated the unusual living arrangements in the town: there were dormitories, and many families were not able to live together.
After discussing the historical relevance of the book, Beard went on to read the first chapter of the novel. The first chapter follows June as she reaches Oak Ridge and describes the secrecy that was involved with living and working in the town.
The reading was met with a chorus of warm applause from the filled room, and many attendees asked questions about the book which Beard happily answered.
When asked about the experience of attending the book signing, attendee Joan Heminway said she thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the book from the author herself.
“There is nothing for me like the old-fashioned bookstore and actually talking to authors,” Heminway said. “It is much nicer to be able to be with someone and hear about their process of writing.”
The employees at Union Ave. Books further explained after the reading that the owner of the store read “The Atomic City Girls” and loved the novel, which sparked the store's interest in bringing the author in for an event.
Union Ave. Books frequently holds book signings and events, and the full list can be accessed on its website.