Date of Award
M.F.A. in Creative Writing
University of Mississippi
True contentment is a thing as active as agriculture. It is the power of getting out of any situation all that there is in it. It is arduous and it is rare. It is the discipline of Epiphany. — G. K. Chesterton
Each of these stories has something to do with the idea of epiphany, as I mean it, the appearance or manifestation of something that wasn’t present before. The characters in the five stories all have something they are active about, which they are doing in the hopes of some measure of contentment. My interest was to pay attention to them in particular settings and make a realistic gesture towards an understanding which breaks through to them, transcends, in the end. All of them ate set either in Lauderdale County, Tennessee, where my father’s family lives, or in Memphis, where I was raised.
My hope was to realistically present the places I have known best and the people who have lived in them and made their own, to honor their manners and the deeper mysteries they point to, as Flannery O’Connor might put it. I am interested in what she called the writer’s problem to operate “at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet.” I think the power of the epiphany with which each of these characters meets succeeds or fails in how faithful I have been with those first two aspects.
Wendell Berry wrote to Wes Jackson in Home Economics that “To call the unknown by its right name, ‘mystery,’ is to suggest that we had better respect the possibility of a larger, unseen pattern that can be damaged or destroyed and, with it, the smaller patterns.” This respecting of mystery points to religion, he says, and this writing was a struggle of faith for me, an attempt to honor by telling of this world and the hopes of the one to come. He also says, “If we are up against mystery, then we dare act only on the most modest assumptions,” and I think anywhere these stories don’t ring true, it suggests I didn’t act modestly enough and tended toward explanation. Where they do work best, it was an unexpected moment for me, grace, as for the characters themselves.
In short, in writing them, I hope to learn better how to tell a good story.
Akin, Jr., Paul N., "Works of Men" (2000). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2316.