Date of Award

Spring 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Olivia Clare

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Joshua Bernstein

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Katherine Cochran

Committee Member 3 School


Committee Member 4

Monika Gehlawat

Committee Member 4 School



For centuries, authors of literary fiction have been focused on questions of the human condition. In Secretary Bird, I aim to expand the scope of the short story form to examine larger inquiries which connect human emotional experiences with the rest of the world around us. With the inclusion of animal perspectives alongside human narratives, nature ascends to the status of fully distinct characters in this collection, which explores themes of compassion, empathy, despair, and grief from angles that challenge readers’ preconceptions of language and communication. Through this expansion, Secretary Bird aims to encompass a wider thematic focus than fiction limited to stories of people alone.

Spanning influences from Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita andHeart of a Dog, to Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones and Lauren Groff’s Florida, the stories in Secretary Bird trace the emotional intersections of human and animal life. A former police officer and her K-9 partner are on the run, looking for home in a world they no longer belong to. A husband and wife are haunted by a family of wolves, wondering if the animals’ presence is aligned with a trauma that connects their marriage. Two nuns lay wait in vigil for a promised visitation from the Virgin Mary, forced to reckon with the fierce costs of faith. A mother and daughter end up stranded on a strange island where birds die en masse and the two women must finally communicate to survive.

The stories in Secretary Bird employ structure and form to replicate the movements of the natural world, as well as the brain functions of both animals and humans in the hopes of reconnecting emotional ties across species that have been given too little attention in both classical and contemporary fiction. With this approach, Secretary Bird brings a closer lens to the connections inherent within worlds, rather than focusing on divisions between them.

Available for download on Wednesday, May 10, 2169

Included in

Fiction Commons