Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Humanities, PhD

Committee Chair

Allen, Annette

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Watson, Brad

Committee Member

Watson, Brad

Committee Member

Williams, Michael

Committee Member

Griner, Paul

Author's Keywords

fiction; gender; intersex; queer; mining


This dissertation consists of a full-length novel for an adult audience as well as a substantial critical afterword to elucidate and complicate germane thematic concerns of the creative artifact. The novel, leaning on the rich traditions and many genre conventions of fictions of the American south, tells the story of an unlikely underground coal miner in Blue Banks, a fictional southern town set in the caverns and rolling hills of the western Kentucky coal fields. The narrative follows its fish-out-of-water protagonist, Cody Culver, a fledgling academic who thought he had escaped his fate as a third-generation coal miner when he left Kentucky for graduate school in Chicago, as he finds himself back in the small mining town of his youth, poverty stricken and desperate for work to support his new wife and baby on-the-way. When Cody meets a fellow outsider—the enigmatic Hunter McCready, who has just been released from prison for the attempted murder of Cody’s older brother, Luke—they form a quick, unsettling bond that could turn Cody against his family and the close-knit mining community at large. When the friendship eventually becomes sexual, the affair threatens Cody’s reputation, his marriage, and even his life. Along the way, Cody’s identity is complicated, especially as he learns that Hunter McCready has Klinefelter Syndrome, a condition in which a phenotypic male has an XXY chromosome in place of the much more common XY (male) or XX (female); in other words, Hunter McCready is simultaneously male, female, and neither. If Cody Culver is attracted to, and in love with, someone who is “invisibly” intersex, what does this mean for Cody himself—a cisgender man—concerning his sexuality? Is Cody gay, straight, bisexual, or something else altogether? In what ways does it matter? Who gets to make that decision? These rhetorical questions lead directly into the critical afterword, which is divided into three subtitled sections. The first section synthesizes work by Foucault, Butler, and Blank to consider constructed binaries of sexual orientation, gender, and biological sex. The second section suggests how those constructs interact with the rural American South, giving particular focus to conservative Christian influence. The third section uses examples from selected contemporary literature, including my own creative artifact, to argue the importance of challenging character archetypes in new fictions of the rural American South.

Included in

Fiction Commons