Saw Briers

Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type

Closed Access Thesis

Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)


English and Theatre

First Advisor

Nancy Jensen

Department Affiliation

English and Theatre

Second Advisor

Carter Sickels

Department Affiliation

English and Theatre

Third Advisor

R. Dean Johnson

Department Affiliation

English and Theatre


The purpose of this thesis is to create a publishable collection of short stories depicting aspects of life in Appalachian Kentucky. The thesis consists of a critical introduction and a collection of short stories comprising 120 pages and titled Saw Briers. The critical introduction centers on strategies beyond dialect that can be used to create authentic Appalachian characters in their true setting.

In these stories characters vary in gender, background, and perspective. They live in a poor region of Kentucky, generally termed “Appalachia,” and the stories describe how the characters are affected by misfortune, pain, loss, and grief and the subsequent interactions among them. Beyond the Appalachian setting, stories are interesting because characters are different, and they sometimes display surprising behavior in response to events. My goal has been to describe characters sufficiently so that readers can relate what they know about them to their behavior as events unfold.

A credible character is supported by an authentic setting. The setting must be described using detail that a reader can experience through her own senses, and the character's idiom and the setting should agree. Once, I believed that to write Appalachian speech authentically, I had to use phonetic spelling and other unfamiliar grammatical constructions. I learned that such writing made it more difficult for readers, and as a result of my studies in the Bluegrass Writers Studio, I have enlarged my views on technique. In the critical introduction I discuss a variety of strategies that extend beyond dialect, I discuss how other authors of craft and creative works have approached this issue, and I give examples of how their work guided me.

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