Academics and Research

Graduate student’s acclaimed novel chronicles the atomic bomb’s creation

PhD English student TaraShea Nesbit is the author of "The Wives of Los Alamos."

PhD English student TaraShea Nesbit is the author of “The Wives of Los Alamos.”

TaraShea Nesbit, a third-year PhD student in the University of Denver’s English department, is the author of “The Wives of Los Alamos,” a novel about the creation of the atomic bomb from the perspective of the nuclear scientists’ wives, who were unaware of what their husbands were building. Nesbit developed the novel during her first two years as a PhD student at DU.

“To write it, I traveled several times to Los Alamos, N.M.,” Nesbit says. “I sifted through archives at the Los Alamos Historical Society and listened to oral histories from the scientists’ wives. I read memoirs, physics books and history books about World War II.”

Nesbit’s research and dedication paid off. Her novel was published in February and has been reviewed in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Columbus Dispatch, The Santa Fe New Mexican, O Magazine, Nature, Entertainment Weekly and People magazine, among others.

George Johnson, in a recent New York Times book review, praised Nesbit for taking an “unusual and risky approach” in her storytelling.

“Nesbit doesn’t pick as her narrator one fictional wife or hover over the town, Cheever-like, with an aloof omniscient eye,” he wrote. “The story is told by all of the women — not queued up as in an oral history, but together in unison as one haunting communal voice.”

Completing her master’s of fine arts in poetry at Washington University gave Nesbit a unique approach to prose writing.

“TaraShea understands how narrative works — how behavior is a link of odd, meaningful and meaningless chains — but also writes very clean and lean prose,” says English professor Brian Kiteley. “What stands out about TaraShea is the smart, effective, and imaginative research she did into the Manhattan Project for her book. I am very impressed both by the details of her novel and by the humanity and empathy of her understanding of these women in that fascinating, terrifying and world-changing project.”

Nesbit chose the graduate program at the University of Denver for its small class size and the ability to work closely with faculty and students. She also likes how the program places importance on tutorials, two-credit-hour sessions that meet once a week. The classes are capped at three students.

“The English department works hard to create time for graduate students, and that’s what any writer needs the most of all,” Nesbit says. “We need time to read, time to think, and time to write. If I did not have the time and support, I would never have written this book.”

Nesbit is working on a new book, set during the 17th century, about an eclectic mix of people aboard a ship that traveled from Holland to England then onward to America. She also makes time to be involved in the local community—she has mentored young writers at the Ricks Center for Gifted Children, a private school affiliated with DU, and has facilitated writing sessions at the Gathering Place, a daytime drop-in center for women, children and transgender individuals experiencing homelessness and poverty.

“A woman comes in to the Gathering Place and wants to write a birthday poem for her granddaughter, another wants help working on a cover letter, and a third comes to write a memoir,” Nesbit says. “These connections with others remind me of how much bigger the world is than just my little room, my little writing project, my little grad school experience, my little graduation.”

Nesbit encourages graduate students to be involved with others, to remember how much is out there and to be helpful as much as possible.

“Writing can be an isolating task — a thing done at a desk, alone with a computer, telling stories to no one but yourself,” Nesbit says. “It can be lonely work, as any research project can be, but participating in the community reminds me of what I love about my field.”


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