2012 Thesis Abstracts

Alexa Arastoo. The Adventures of Shafreeforall: A Truly Classy Bitch. Directed by Johannes Göransson.

The Adventures of Shafreeforall: A Truly Classy Bitch is a Young Adult novel chronicling the lives of two best friends, Bradyn and Rachel.  The two children meet in their fifth grade class, when Bradyn immediately falls head over heels in a serious case of puppy love for his new classmate.  After a few weeks of friendship, Bradyn meets Rachel’s family and learns something that he finds rather shocking—Rachel is black!  As the first black person Bradyn has ever met or befriended, ten-year-old Rachel feels the need to introduce Bradyn to everything African-American.  The budding romance between the two children grows into something more in high school after Bradyn realizes that he is actually gay.  The love he feels for Rachel sustains as an equally deep friendship that mimics the media-normalized fag/hag duo, or the “gay best friend” relationship.  From Bradyn’s coming out, the character Shafreeforall is born.

Shafreeforall serves as the narrator of Bradyn and Rachel’s story, from start to finish.  Although she narrates the story, Shafreeforall does not actually exist within the fictional realm of Simonville, Bradyn and Rachel’s hometown.  Shafreeforall is actually the made-up drag queen alter ego that the two children create in high school.  The Adventures of Shafreeforall plays with ideas behind narration and voice.  How does a single, outside character narrate the thoughts and actions of the protagonists?  How does this narrator do it if she does not even exist in the setting of the novel?  Voice is a main focus of The Adventures of Shafreeforall in order to pay special attention to audience interest and authenticity.

The themes of race and LGBT issues are central to this novel.  The YA audience is very impressionable to narrative content, and The Adventures of Shafreeforall serves to increase racial and gender literacy.  A brief survey of popular YA literature shows a shocking lack of racial and sexual diversity.  The idea of having a witty, over the top narrative voice like Shafreeforall is to provide an engaging way to discuss and tease out instances of prejudice.  Lacking many of the flashier aspects of what makes many novels in the YA genre popular, such as fantasy, violence, romance, sex or dystopia, The Adventures of Shafreeforall may come off as a mild, quirky story, but after a deliberate reading, the topics breached go deeper than first imagined.  What make these Adventures so bold are the instances of unwavering exploration of 21st century acts of racism and heterosexism. 

The Adventures of Shafreeforall exists to have a bigger purpose while heeding a special care to its young audience in order to, ideally, increase both literary and actual knowledge.

Emily Barton. La musa del sueño. Directed by Joyelle McSweeney.

La musa del sueño is a collection of twenty prose poems that comments on the inadequacy of perceived reality as a means of fulfillment.  The speaker creates linguistic landscapes of reality’s insufficiency by drawing the outer world into her own inner world as a way to both contain reality and destroy it.  The poems rely largely on images and image association to create the sense of movement, both physical and mental, within the poetic space.  This portfolio was most heavily influenced by the work of Arthur Rimbaud, Rainer Maria Rilke, Ben Lerner and Damaris Calderón Campos who collectively showed me the importance of allowing the voice to speak instead of the poet.

Angela Campbell. “Fallen.” Directed by Thomas Werge.

In the current physical world there is only so much we can do to question and interpret the realm past our own. We can only theorize and hypothesize based on claims of angelic miracles, whispers of demon possession, and stories of ghosts. The spiritual world, in our minds, is a completely separated from our own with only a few instances and rumors of one being wandering into the other realm. But what if the spiritual world is much more integrated into the physical world than we believe? What if everyday miracles and troubles that we take as life’s blessings and hardships are actually the work of spiritual beings? In this novel, I attempt to answer many questions based on my own beliefs and the extent of my imagination.

This creative piece is challenges the common idea of spirituality and dives into the complex nature of our soul and its role in each of our bodies. I must ask the question how much does the shape, gender, and outlook of our bodies shape our respective personalities and the degree to which our environment and life colors the depths of our soul. In this novel, I create a new definition for “life after death” and encounter the idea of forming a personality without having a body or a past. I face the ongoing debate of whether nature or nurture has a more profound effect on our soul and the extent to which our decisions are predetermined.

Love is a very prevalent theme throughout this fictional piece but rather than celebrating love, I rethink it. In this day and age, people are caught up with the race, culture, physical outlook, socioeconomic background, and gender of the person they seek to love. It is all of these categories that create requirements in our own minds for the person we want to have in our lives. But if all of these characteristics were taken away from a person – what bare minimum would we have left? If people only existed without memories of their culture, without race, without a socioeconomic background, without gender, and without a physical body – what form does love take? In this novel, I address the human limits of love and paint a new love between characters that is founded solely on the bare minimum. Love plays a very different role in this book than it has in any other. In this book, there are neither family’s hearts to win nor any culture barriers to overcome; rather there is the challenge of truly accepting the sin and goodness in each of our souls.

Although love is a continuous thought throughout this novel, fate is a greater presence, or rather the integration of fate, free will, and karma with each other as well as throughout a life. The characters’ circumstance in the novel is determined by their actions on earth, suggesting karma, and yet their existence and its timing are fated. But although karma and fate will always have a role in our lives, it is free will that plays the strongest and most powerful role of all – it is only through free will that we can challenge the circumstance we were put into and battle against our own karma. It is through free will that we form our own fates rather than have our fate decided for us.

Sara Felsenstein. Dessert Tuesdays and Other Stories. Directed by Joyelle McSweeney.

What characterizes the nature of obsession in the modern world? How has online hyperconnectivity perpetuated obsession, and to what extent has it made obsession more socially acceptable? Why do young people develop obsessions, specifically with body image and material objects, and how are those obsessions detrimental to personal development? 

These questions were fundamental to my creative thesis project, “Dessert Tuesdays and Other Stories,” a collection of three short stories each presenting a young protagonist faced with a personal conflict that ultimately leads to a crippling — but sometimes cathartic — obsession. The perspectives of the three stories are varied, written either with a first-person narrator, third-person narrator or combination of both.

“Dessert Tuesdays,” a story composed of nine short vignettes, explores the slow and disturbing effects of eating disorders on the family. In “Dessert Tuesdays,” the mother of the protagonist, Brooke, suffers from anorexia, a disease that alters her entire psychology and bleeds into every aspect of her daily life. The story shows a constant reversal of the mother-daughter relationship since Brooke’s mother’s view of reality is so distorted. The conflict Brooke faces — succumbing to external pressures or learning from her mother’s issues and rising above them — is the driving force behind the story. 

Inspired by the fast-paced style of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club, “Register 3 is Now Open” is a story written in a series of short, choppy sentences punctuated by refrains that imitate the repetitive language of retail stores. The story takes place in TJMAXX, a self-contained world with its own moral code and set of social rules that the teenage narrator, Jason, has difficulty penetrating. Taking place entirely in the course of an eight-hour work shift, the narrative has a frantic, chaotic feel, created in part by the incessant present tense. “Register 3 is Now Open” is the lightest of the three stories, poking fun at the absurdity of text messaging and parodying the discount shopping experience.

 Like “Dessert Tuesdays,” “The Perfect Couch” is written in a series of vignettes that skip through time. Again combining the themes of materialism and obsession, this story shows a protagonist struggling to solidify her self-image in the midst of agonizing grief. Twenty-eight-year-old Meredith is obsessed with shopping for a new couch — she spends every Friday night in Ikea trying them out, without actually purchasing one. Characters in the story cannot understand why Meredith spends so much time “shopping,” but readers are shown a different perspective. Throughout “The Perfect Couch,” I worked to maintain a strong sense of sadness and repression without stating those emotions directly. For Meredith, like many other characters in this collection, obsession becomes a mode of denial, a defense mechanism.

Carolyn Garcia. Bearings. Directed by Orlando Menes.

Bearings is a collection of lyric poems that seeks to access a place-based aesthetic through an ecstatic tone.  Just as a concrete image can be symbolic of a more abstract concept (as in the metaphysical poetry of Herbert, Donne, and their contemporaries), the tangible qualities of any given place house other, intangible qualities. This “spirit of place” is composed not only of a place’s physical properties, but also of the impression one gets from being there, which may include its history, the culture connected to it, and the mythos that surrounds it.  It is what one feels when one voyages to a distant country, or comes home after a long time away. An ecstatic tone, for the purposes of this collection, is one that carries a certain kind of energy which is based in the physical world but which seeks connection to a larger truth (in a religious or a secular sense). This energy is often rooted in exultation of the ordinary and of the speaker’s surroundings. The theme and the tone converge in the human desire to access the supernatural, the abstract, and the intangible while being firmly planted in the physical world. Tension between the tangible and the intangible is what fuels ecstatic energy. Our inability to extricate ourselves entirely from the physical is not a curse but a blessing, for the physical is the vehicle through which we enter what lies beyond it. To connect with anything beyond ourselves, we must first find our bearings within our physical surroundings.

Within W. T. Pfefferle’s Poets on Place, a collection of interviews of contemporary American poets, two separate approaches for capturing the spirit of place emerge. One is regionalism in a strict sense and consists of the poet “putting down roots” in a specific area and drawing inspiration from interactions with the land itself. The other involves a more composite approach, creating imagined versions of real places via a blend of collective or personal mythologies. Both of these approaches work in different ways to fulfill Robert Pinsky’s proscriptions for poetry in his essay “Responsibilities of the Poet,” and the poems in Bearings experiment with both methods. Formal elements mimicking the diction of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Seamus Heaney also help ground these poems in the physical world while harnessing the longing exultation of the ecstatic. The three sections of Bearings, “Home,” “Abroad,” and “Origins,” reflect the sources of inspiration for the poems within them.

Rachel Hamilton. The Imprecise History of Tia Sonia. Directed by Orlando Menes.

The Imprecise History of Tia Sonia is a novella which implements cultural study and narrative to address a fundamentally emotional issue: how to reconcile identity within a diverse context. While The Imprecise History of Tia Sonia expressly focuses on the mindsets and traditions of New England’s population of Azorean Portuguese immigrants, Ana Almeida and Tia Sonia’s story, a story of identity and personal acceptance, demonstrates the universality of experiences despite the idiosyncrasies of a specific culture.

While The Imprecise History of Tia Sonia responds to many works from the long tradition of stories about familial legacy and conflict, it distinguishes itself from these works through its negation of linear narrative. Instead, it incorporates history, myth, and reflections in order to reach a more complete articulation of identity: both the identity of Ana and of the mysterious Tia Sonia.

In the novella, Ana, an Azorean-American woman in her twenties has left Fall River, Massachusetts, the community where she grew up, almost completely abandoning her Portuguese heritage. However, when her elderly aunt, Tia Sonia, leaves the island of Faial following the death of her husband, Ana is forced to readdress her Portuguese identity. While a language barrier makes communication difficult for the two women, they are connected by the same melancholy and contradiction of motivations. Tia Sonia is unable to reconcile her love of her husband with his loss and Ana cannot reconcile her individuality with her Portuguese heritage. As the novella progresses, the parallels of the two women’s experiences to the experience of Azoreans throughout history is revealed. The geographical isolation of the Azores and the cultural isolation of Azorean immigrants in the United States poise the Azoreans in a troubled situation of simultaneous nostalgia and desire for departure.

The Imprecise History of Tia Sonia is a novella which focuses on the quotidian: the way Ana and Tia Sonia come to terms with each other and with their lives in America. As the women try to understand where they fit culturally and personally, they realize that they cannot entirely escape the narratives which they know, but neither are they bound to them. A central moment in the piece comes in the exploration of the old Portuguese proverb: “to navigate is precise, to live is not precise.”  Ultimately, what Ana and Tia Sonia must do is accept the imprecision of their lives and the complexities and contradictions within  their own identities and narratives.

Joey Horan. What Do the Do-Gooders Do? Directed by Valerie Sayers.

What Do the Do-Gooders Do? is part one of a novel that challenges the often over-simplified narrative of the privileged volunteer.  As a college-aged North American working in São Paulo, Grant very openly confronts his temporality and uselessness as a volunteer.  Saddled with indifference and resignation, his encounters with the homeless, imprisoned, and prostituted of the city enlighten him in all the wrong ways.  He is made fully aware of the relative smallness of his problems––a realization that does not demand the level of immersion Grant undergoes––but their relative smallness is exactly what darkens his world.  While the individuals that approach Grant’s bubble are capable of inciting change and compassion, Grant always turns inward, burying himself in a pitiful and isolating tragedy.

But the work is not all tragedy.  Through a narrative voice slightly removed from Grant’s consciousness, the story reveals the comedic irony of the overly self-aware kid from New England trudging through the grime of São Paulo.  Grant has no business getting stabbed in a homeless shelter or giving familial advice to a prisoner of seven years.  And so the piece works for a laughter that is not completely cognizant of its own realization or tragedy.  If we cannot laugh at the various forms of imprisonment within the narrative, São Paulo, and the world, the only thing we can do is cry, and despair is not very productive or fun. 

Those who influence me, namely George Saunders, David Foster Wallace, and Junot Díaz, demand a humor that moves away from or replaces despair.  Saunders, often an employer of the absurdly and satirically comical, describes the work of a fiction writer as a “yelp that contains all of the joys, miseries, and contradictions of life as it is actually lived.”  I see similar yelps in the expansive and blunt-force-trauma language of Wallace and in the emotionally intense journeys of a Díaz protagonist.  My yelp tries to land somewhere inside and outside the web of these three giants.  The only authentic way to give life to Grant’s experience of São Paulo, with its gritty truths and heartbreaking stories, is extreme and truthful language and emotion.  And we can maybe put up with São Paulo’s impersonal grit and sadness––not fall into despair––when we humorously stack Grant’s imperfections, anxieties, insecurities, and quirks up against the city’s.  We can laugh at Grant, in spite of him, and with him, and hopefully have time to reflect on what exactly is so funny and why.

Dylan Krieger. Hole Water. Directed by Johannes Göransson.

As in most artistic mediums, grotesque aesthetics in poetry are known for their stark depictions of human bodies as “open, protruding, irregular, secreting, multiple, and changing” (The Female Grotesque: Risk, Excess, and Modernity 8). As a result, grotesque poems are often considered disturbing or distasteful, offending either the vanity or the moral sensibility of their audience. However, physical processes that exhibit grotesque permeability and change are not unique to human bodies, but appear throughout nature as well. Thus, in my Creative Writing Honors Thesis project, a series of poems entitled Hole Water, I seek to destigmatize the grotesque body by blurring the distinction between it and its uncontroversially beautiful but equally grotesque natural environment. In particular, the poems of Hole Water achieve this categorical fusion by demonstrating a principle of extreme flux or “instability” in both form and content, diction and imagery. In this way, Hole Water aims to portray the universality of grotesque permeability precisely by envisioning the latter’s own permeation of all artistic categories, ultimately pointing readers to the artificiality of any division between environmental and bodily grotesqueries.

Stephanie Rice. The Unsetting Sun. Directed by Valerie Sayers.

My thesis seeks to disprove the notion that action-oriented, “pop fiction” novels are inherently devoid of literary merit. The Unsetting Sun is not merely ‘entertainment literature,’ but a serious academic endeavor heavily influenced by such literary theorists as Zadie Smith, Charles Baxter, and Lawrence W. Levine.  Defenders of the ‘highbrow’ theory of literature are quick to dismiss action-oriented and fast-paced works, and The Unsetting Sun most certainly falls under those categories. However, the novella’s complex, multi-perspective narrative structure combined with its focus on such serious themes as hopelessness and love nonetheless qualify it as a strongly ‘literary’ work.

Inspired by works from such acclaimed authors as Colum McCann and Jonathan Safron Foer, The Unsetting Sun traces the lives of interconnected souls throughout various time periods. Careful character development yields a central set of empathic characters whose emotional complexity grounds the story in reality even as disaster strikes. A meditative air pervades even the most action-heavy sections as characters wrestle with guilt and a futile desire for understanding in the midst of unanticipated tragedy. The unreality of the situations propels the novella into the realm of science fiction, but this classification diminishes neither the universality of the characters’ suffering nor the depth of their emotions. The Unsetting Sun is ultimately just as thought-provoking as it is entertaining, and its intentional parallels between the protagonist and literary forebear Dr. Frankenstein only serve to solidify its place as a respectably literary work.