words make a difference: "Rebelling against Narrative in Bastard Out of Carolina"

Rachel Walerstein, class of 2013

With Erik Hubbard in a prize-winning performance of Cee-Lo Green's We all connect with at least one book we've read in our lives. That book, no matter when we read it, stays with us like a favorite sweatshirt on a cold day--warm and comforting. I didn't find that book until my junior year of college, but I would never have found it if I hadn't been in Professor Leigh Wilson's introductory fiction writing course. In the spring of my sophomore year, because I hadn't missed a class all semester. she gave me a book of Dorothy Allison's short stories. Little did I know that book would lead me to choosing Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina as the novel on which I'd give a presentation at Marist College's 21st Annual Women & Society Conference. And little did I know how far Bone's story would take me in discovering my own.

I knew early on that I wanted to do queer readings of texts, using the deviant and perverse worldviews presented in contemporary fiction to assess my own modernity. How might we begin to understand something like sexuality and gender through characters who have the privilege of a story's ending, and who are struggling with these very topics? Is it possible to uncover a new paradigm for sexual knowledge in a  novel? I decided yes, and began my search for some answers, aided by Drs. Maureen Curtin and Patrick Murphy. 

The earnest pursuit of answers to my critical On a visit to the Bay Areaquestions, along with guidance from Patrick and Maureen, have led me to the University of Iowa's English Ph.D. program. I plan to focus on twentieth and twenty-first-century fiction, and how these texts attend to questions of the body, embodiment, subjectivity, and agency. I hope to develop a new way of thinking about our bodies and selves that moves beyond polemics, and towards a radical self-knowledge, and in the process reforms the politics that always already misrecognize us.