Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, English and Literary Arts

First Advisor

Laird Hunt


Creative writing, Poetry, Nonfiction


P. sphinx teen is a novel and creative dissertation that can be classified as a descent narrative, or katabasis, employing various literary forms–––poems, short prose, essays, journal entries, interviews, and illustrations –––to tell one story: the death, from pneumonia, of my mother’s 15-year-old sister. Within the narrative, suggestions of origins are made as a way to affix the idea of a descent through generations and time. However, those origins are quickly set aside allowing the story to branch like a tree–––itself the shape of a simultaneous katabatic and anabatic narrative.

The originating story took place in Detroit, Michigan between 1935 and 1939, and is framed by others: Sigmund Freud’s collection of antiquities and its escape from Vienna in late 1938; the making of Charlotte Salomon’s opus Life? or Theatre?; Anais Nin’s simultaneous marriages; Walter Benjamin’s radio program called Enlightenment for Children. Motifs and characters are interchangeable passes for voices both distinct and indistinct. The author, at times, takes the form of an “I” lifting the life of her lineage to view and, with the suspicion of reincarnation, changing place with the main character, Patricia, who is, simultaneously, one and many.

In researching the family story in relationship to historical events and figures associated with those events, I discovered an irregularity in record keeping that lead me to question whether my aunt had, in fact, died from pneumonia or something less natural. Because the pertinent family members were dead, I turned, first, to a medical chart that my grandmother kept as she tended to her sick daughter constructing a series of horary astrological charts that were then interpreted by four paranormal industrialists with astonishing results.

P. sphinx teen attempts to manifest the lawless nature of grief as a thumbing of one’s nose at those who would have it otherwise or who would make of mourning something compact and manageable. It is a book of many voices, ghost-driven, and made equally uncanny by human ineptitude, wickedness, and grace.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. This work may only be accessed by members of the University of Denver community. The work is provided by permission of the author for individual research purposes only and may not be further copied or distributed. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Joan Dickinson


Received from author

File Format




File Size

280 pgs


Creative writing