Prairie ashes : a novel

Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (v, 273 pages) : illustrations (some color), portrait.

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Edward Schwarzschild

Committee Members

Lynne Tillman, Aashish Kaul


Labor, Miners

Subject Categories

American Literature | Creative Writing


A war was fought in downstate Illinois in the mid-1930s between the renegade Progressive Miners of America and the establishment United Mine Workers of America. Though little remembered today, this war claimed dozens of lives in episodes of retaliatory violence, and played a part in the shaping of the late-20th-century organized labor landscape of the United States. During the first years of the Illinois Mine War, militant, feminist, and anarchist activists played key roles in the Progressive Miners and its Women’s Auxiliary, and radical concepts of mutual aid and autonomy circulated popularly in what is often regarded as a conservative region. Prairie Ashes is my creative engagement with this labor history, and with the continuing afterlives of the war over the course of a half-century. The plot of the novel follows three generations of two families who are damaged—and connected—by the traumatic events of the Mine War. That being said, my project is as much about form as content, and the novel engages with popular methods of narrativizing and preserving historical memory, such as oral histories, scrapbooks, diaries, and zines. My project’s methodology is rooted in an understanding that fiction writing and archival research are intimately connected exploratory processes. Accordingly, the novel’s content is largely built from primary source research I conducted at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois, and other archives. My project is situated in the craft approaches of past-facing novelists such as W.G. Sebald, Aleksander Hemon, Jordy Rosenberg, and George Saunders, and informed by the critical approaches to archives and historiography offered by scholars such as Walter Benjamin, Hayden White, Antoinette Burton, and Saidiya Hartman. In Prairie Ashes, I critique the “historical fiction” genre, honor the creativity of 20th-century vernacular archiving practices, and employ fabulation to reclaim and reimagine lost moments of working-class history.

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