Semester of Graduation

Spring 2019

Degree

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

Department

English

Document Type

Thesis

Abstract

American Waste is an interlinking story cycle told in the first person by a character called Rice. The stories follow Rice from his childhood (in rural Oklahoma) into adulthood, first when lives in a “punk house” with other young punk rockers in Oklahoma City, and later as he travels by freight train around the country. While he travels he reports on what he sees and experiences in the subculture that he is part of, whose members are called gutter punks and crusties. Theirs is a lifestyle bent on risk and adventure and also often plagued with drug and alcohol addiction. Again and again Rice gets into all sorts of trouble. He and his friends live life on the margins, and they prefer it that way. They hitchhike and shoplift and sleep beneath the stars. Rice eventually grows tired of this lifestyle and ultimately returns to Oklahoma City and attempts to re-integrate with society. He finds a job in construction and it is worse than he imagined. He later works in restaurants, but that doesn’t work out either. Every time he thinks he is safe he is confronted with the excesses and dangers of the community he is part of. By the end of the collection, the reader finds him in his late-thirties, attending a funeral of an old friend, a reminder of the complicate life he left behind. But Rice has few regrets. He plans to go to college and become a teacher some day. He has finally found his way. Above all, this story collection examines the ways in which a self-marginalized subculture can provide a safe and nurturing refuge for some, and at the same time, paradoxically,replicate all of the problems of the broader world.

Committee Chair

Rebekah Frumkin

Available for download on Sunday, March 15, 2026

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