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Atomically Correct: Janet Beard

Inequality of the sexes. Invisibility under Jim Crow. Nukes. Columbus author Janet Beard’s Atomic City Girls (due out this month from Harper-Collins) is a moving piece of historical fiction set in her East Tennessee hometown in the mid-’40s—but its explorations are as prescient as yesterday’s CNN headlines. Her story revolves around June Walker, an 18-year-old [...]
Jeni Ruisch

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Inequality of the sexes. Invisibility under Jim Crow. Nukes.

Columbus author Janet Beard’s Atomic City Girls (due out this month from Harper-Collins) is a moving piece of historical fiction set in her East Tennessee hometown in the mid-’40s—but its explorations are as prescient as yesterday’s CNN headlines.

Her story revolves around June Walker, an 18-year-old who hops off a bus in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and into a secretive world of security checks and supervised machine-work—where she and others like her have been made, unknowingly, the gears of nuclear war.

In real life, hundreds like June were part of the Manhattan Project, the clandestine creation of the war-ending nuclear bombs. Beard, who grew up in Oak Ridge, deftly paints a picture comprised of cultural familiarity and painstaking research.

“I search for the details of everyday life that will bring history to life and try to avoid imposing my 21st century ideas onto my characters, though I know some of that is inevitable.”

In this period of the 21st century—with the President going Twit-for-tat with the country’s most volatile leaders, and with a new renaissance in equality gaining steam, Beard’s novel feels like a callback and a call to arms.

“The educational and career opportunities that have opened up for women in the past seventy-five years are staggering,” she says.

Women streaming into factories to help the wartime effort was the first huge push out of the home and into the workplace. But getting one’s foot in the door is only the beginning of a long battle.

“The situation was viewed as temporary, like rationing or blackouts,” Beard added.

“[And] seventy-five years ago, the concept of sexual harassment didn’t exist. Army training materials for the ‘girls’ like my protagonist June coming to work at Oak Ridge, explicitly instructed them that, while they should dress and behave in an attractive manner, it was their responsibility to avoid unwanted attention from male supervisors.”

In real life, as in her story, ordinary people from all over the Tennessee region and beyond came to work in Oak Ridge. Brought together for a single effort, but split apart by imposed social circumstance, Beard creates interactions and ramifications between not only individuals, but groups of people. Black Americans were an important part of the Oak Ridge workforce. Unfortunately, the Army deferred to the institutional racism of the Jim Crow South, building a fully segregated town in Oak Ridge. Some of Beard’s characters embody this conflict, humanizing a story of coming together that is often at odds with itself. The universalities of the workers were aspirations of a better life, and a desire to serve their country.

“They moved to Oak Ridge for both money and patriotism and were generally proud to be a part of the war effort. People placed a degree of trust in the government that is hard to imagine today. That trust led to U.S. victory but allowed abuses of power, as well. Yet conflicts persist around the world, and the human cost of war stays depressingly constant throughout history.”

In other words: the more things change, they more they stay the same:

“Because the U.S. has now been involved in wars for so long, I think it is easy for those of us without a personal connection to the Armed Forces to ignore them,” Beard said.

In an era where constant conflict has become normalized, Beard follows a ‘those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’ philosophy. Using the raw material of history, and flavoring it with fiction, Beard builds a bridge from the present that can tell us a vivid and living story, while retracing our collective steps, as well as missteps.  

Beard, who made her first publishing splash with upstart Two Dollar Radio, will keep the launch of Atomic City Girls local with a reception at their headquarters (1124 Parsons Ave.) on February 6. For more, visit janetbeard.com.

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Arts Fest Preview: See BalletMet live outdoors!

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BalletMet’s Friday night’s headline performance at 8:30 p.m. at the Arts Festival is sure to be a highlight of weekend. One of the nation’s top 20 largest professional companies, BalletMet consists of dancers hailing from across the nation and the world and boasts a premiere academy for aspiring professional dancers, one that’s been recognized as an institution of local and national stature.

Since 1978, BalletMet has brought incredible dance to theaters in Central Ohio and beyond and their commitment to bringing dance to the Columbus community, especially in underserved areas, is unparalleled.

Art of War Photo by Jen Zmuda

From in-school programs to theater field trips, scholarships and free performances, the company is dedicated to making dance accessible to all. More than 10,000 children attend the company’s Morning at the Ballet field trip performances each year. And thanks to a grant from PNC Arts Alive, BalletMet’s second company, BalletMet 2, has performed at free events at the King Arts Complex, Franklin Park Conservatory and more, throughout the 2018-19 season.

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In addition to the free performance at the Arts Festival BalletMet will perform at Dance on Dakota on Friday, May 10, from 5 to 8 p.m. in Franklinton. This performance is also free.

Dance on Dakota, co-hosted by Franklinton Arts District, is part of a weekend-long block party in Franklinton and features free food and drink and a collaborative performance with TRANSIT ARTS. The event will take place at Dakota Ave. and Town St.

Dancers Grace Anne Powers and William Newton Photo by Jen Zmuda

BalletMet’s Columbus Arts Festival performance will include a mixed repertoire of shorter pieces from its past productions and will be preceded by music from DJ Donnie M. of Damn Girl.

And if these performances capture your interest, the company recently announced its 2019-20 season, which includes ALICE, based on the later stories of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, Twisted 3, a collaboration with the Columbus Symphony and Opera Columbus, and, of course, The Nutcracker.

More info at www.balletmet.org. For all your Arts Festival details visit www.colubmusartsfestival.org

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Arts Fest Preview: You wood hate to miss local crafter

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Woodworker and Art Makes Columbus featured artist Devon Palmer has been working with his hands since his upbringing in northeast Indiana. His mother a wood carver and his father a carpenter and cabinet maker, Palmer took a more mechanical route by obtaining his pilot’s license and attending Purdue University to pursue a career as an airplane mechanic.

But as his career transitioned from maintenance to the tech field, he yearned to work with his hands again. Originally he considered pottery, before a class he planned to attend got canceled. But a trip home the weekend before Thanksgiving led to his father introducing him to woodturning.

That was more than 15 years ago. And though he is largely self-taught, Palmer also credits local woodturners from the Central Ohio Woodturners (a chapter of the American Association of Woodturners) for taking him under their wing. In 2005, he opened his first studio just north of Downtown, and in 2007 he began teaching woodturning at Woodcraft Columbus.

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Today, Palmer does a bit of mentoring of his own. He teaches classes in blade and bowl turning, resin cast pen turning and more advanced projects like hollow vessel turning in his studio at the Idea Foundry. He is also adding a series of LGBTQ date night pen turning classes to his growing schedule of classes, shows and demonstrations.

Palmer says his work represents “family and connectedness” with work ranging from salad bowls and laser engraved pens to funerary urns and ornaments. The details in his hand-crafted tableware and home goods manage to invoke a warm sense of community, fellowship, and hospitality.

Devon Palmer works in internet technology and is also a pianist and ordained minister.

Make your own wood turned pen with Devon Palmer at the Columbus Arts Festival, June 7-9, at the Big Local Art Village located at the Festival’s Franklinton entrance. Learn more about Devon at www.columbusmakesart.com/stories/devon-palmer and get all your Arts Festival details at www.columbusartsfestival.org

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Arts Festival Preview: Dr. E uses voice to overcome adversity

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Dr. E, singer-songwriter and author Cleveland-born singer-songwriter Dr. Elaine Richardson — known by her stage name Dr. E — has used her voice to detail the incredible circumstances she encountered while overcoming great adversity. Born to a musician father and Jamaican immigrant mother, Dr. E begun tapping into her talent while singing in church, her school’s choir, and in girl groups.

Dr. E continued to sing despite the difficult path she faced. As a teen, she became a sex trafficking victim and fell into addiction. In her recovery, she pursued higher education at Cleveland State University and Michigan State University. During this time Dr. E also began performing as the frontwoman for a number of cover bands and placing her original music on various TV shows. She recorded her first album, “Elevated,” in 2010.

Dr. E’s introspective song lyrics reflect the often difficult process of healing while defending those who share her experiences or face exploitation and discrimination in other ways.

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On her sophomore album, 2017’s “Songs for the Struggle,” she gives a soulful retelling of her journey from sex trafficking survivor to university professor, Ph.D., author and advocate. Blending elements of soul, rock, funk, rhythm and blues, and jazz, Dr. E sings with an astonishing amount of hope and positivity; Though the album details the trauma and exploitation experienced by Dr. E during her teen years, her power message ultimately expresses affirmations of self-love and acceptance employed with an equally powerful and joyous voice.

Dr. E is currently a professor of literacy studies in the College of Education at The Ohio State University. She has written a number of books on African American literature as well as a memoir, “PHD to Ph.D.: How Education Saved My Life.”

See Dr. E. perform at the Columbus Arts Festival, Saturday, June 8 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on the Big Local Stage on Rich St.

For hours, artist listing and all Festival information go to www.columbusartsfestival.org

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