Heather Ream turns love letter into novel

Susan EspirituSouth Knox

Heather Ream, local author, began a love letter to her family and it evolved into a book, chosen as 2024 May Bonus Book for the International Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Club and available in the public library system of five different counties, including Knox.

Lunchladies Bought My Prom Dress, is Ream’s memoir, set in Knoxville, where she grew up in South Knoxville before moving to the Karns community after the death of her father.

As with many graduates, Ream graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree that didn’t align with her passions, and moved to Atlanta where she worked in her current non-clinical healthcare field.

In 2014, she moved back to Knoxville with her husband, Ben, and wrote this novel during the last year of her mother’s life. Mom, Linda Burchfield, was struggling with schizoaffective disorder that was compounded with vascular dementia.

So why the book about her youth? Heather recalls, “I had a lot of challenges growing up. I was poor, I was fat, I loved the church, but I had been hurt by the church. I survived a life-altering tragedy, but despite the roadblocks, I clung to hope.”

The quote from Matthew@ CrowsFault about hope resonates with Heather’s journey so far and her future goals: “People speak of hope as if it is this delicate, ephemeral thing made of whispers and spider’s webs. It’s not. Hope has dirt on her face, blood on her knuckles, the grit of cobblestones in her hair, and just spat out a tooth as she rises for another go.”

Ream asks readers to realize that getting out of poverty isn’t a linear path. She says supports like food stamps, social security survivors’ benefits, and Marketplace health insurance truly saved her life.

Heather urges those who are not in poverty to be aware of the myth that “hard work” is all you need to propel yourself out of it. She cautions us to know that people who have never struggled don’t understand how the system is rigged in terms of equity, of opportunity, of living wages.

She says, “No fair bragging about sliding into home when you were born on third base. You do have to work hard, but that is only half the equation. You can’t ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ if you don’t have shoes.”

Heather Ream started out writing a love letter to her family but wound up writing a novel for all who grew up feeling different.

You can find her book, Lunchladies Bought My Prom Dress at Knox County Public Library.

All of us have a story and I want to tell yours! Send them to susan@knoxtntoday.com


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