Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Kathleen Ryan

Committee Co-Chair

Cari Carpenter

Committee Member

Ryan Claycomb

Committee Member

John Ernest

Committee Member

Rosemary Hathaway


My dissertation explores strategies for survival primarily related to acts of storytelling, and more specifically storytelling with the tacit agreement for measures of truth, what I refer to in my title as life-writing. The term "life-writing" refers broadly to literary and theatrical works that are connected to the lived-experience. The texts I examine, all written in the U.S. after 1990, consider the impact of traumatic and unjust pasts through sweeping, epic narratives. Each of these texts tells a separate story about injustice through stories that reveal children as victims of discursive and/or actual violence arising out of conflict between and within institutional and family identities. Instead of viewing these texts as isolated and unrelated, my dissertation places these stories in conversation with one another to ask what we can learn about the child and survival. Childhood in these texts is an act of performative grieving, mourning the loss of a self that either never was or a self that was lost quickly to experiencing or witnessing trauma.;I argue that Gerald Vizenor's term "survivance" offers a perspective for understanding these survival stories as active resistance to make a cultural analysis that focuses on narrative devices and patterns. Breaks in the written story or theatrical performance testify to experiences that threaten the stability of a single narrative about the child or family, while demonstrating survivalist strategies for understanding family as a source of pain and strength. In my dissertation I am closing in on the power of testimony and witnessing as means for recovering the voice and perspective of the child. My definition of the child begins with what I understand as the child figure. The child figure is a written self accessed through memories and experiences of a childhood used to represent an emotional past. The child figure frequently signals loss or a sense of absence. As a link between survival and presence, survivance provides a way to name the feel of these stories, an assertion of persistence and hope from within stories riven by violence.