Advisory Committee Chair
Advisory Committee Members
Date of Award
Degree Name by School
Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences
Cutting the Lilies is a historical-fiction novel that begins in April of 1963 and ends in June of 1964. Settings include rural areas on Alabama’s Sand Mountain, the small towns of Fort Payne and Scottsboro, and the city of Birmingham. As with much historical fiction, the novel interweaves a personal, ostensibly fictional story about everyday people with true events. In this case, the personal story is based on a real family involved in a boating accident on the Tennessee River in 1963. A mother and six of her eleven children, as well as two extended family members, drowned. The personal story will follow the remaining five children, with 17-year-old Paula Keaves (the eldest daughter) serving as narrator. Elements of Paula’s personal circumstances will bring her in contact with people and events – both well-known and little known – that are part of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama. In particular, she will witness the Children’s March in Birmingham and meet William Moore, a white postman who is walking from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to his birth state of Mississippi to deliver a letter urging equal rights for African-Americans to Governor Ross Barnett. The book will begin two days after the funeral for Paula’s mother, brothers, and sisters. Glimpses of the accident and the family’s life before the accident will be provided through flashbacks. A particularly horrific detail of the accident, known only to one character (Benny, Paula’s 10-year-old brother), will be revealed near the end (like in Sophie’s Choice). In telling the story of Paula, her family, the events she witnesses, and the time and place in which she lives, the book will touch on myriad social issues, including poverty, domestic violence, racism, classism, mental illness, and how the Civil Rights Movement was perceived – or ignored – in rural areas that were relatively close geographically to major events. Paula will struggle to understand tragedy and resilience as they relate to her own situation as well as the momentous events unfolding around her. She will discover that the way forward lies in facing the past and contributing to a hopeful vision of the future.
McMurrey, Olivia A., "Cutting the Lilies" (2021). All ETDs from UAB. 857.