Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts




English (MA)

First Advisor/Chairperson

Dr. Amy Hamilton


The relationships between place, narrative, memory, and identity are integral in many oral traditions. This project considers place as actively shaping Sterling’s identity in Laguna author Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Almanac of the Dead and R.L. Burnside’s rendition of the popular murder ballad “Stack O’Lee and Billy Lyons.” Ethical and personal views of land and place offers a method for individual and cultural survivance. Comparing these two separate “return and recovery” narratives offer a clear illustration of how land impacts identity.

Sterling’s home in Laguna Pueblo falls victim to the extraction industry and bares a scar that results in Sterling’s banishment from Laguna. His time as a gardener allows him to reconnect with land and his interest in the Dillinger Gang history in Tucson, Arizona reconnects him to place-based stories. As a result, upon his return to Laguna he reconnects with the land and views Mt. Taylor as his elders taught him is was named, “Woman Veiled In Rain Clouds.”

R.L. Burnside’s experiences with murder and death inform this project’s reading of his unique first-person perspective in his rendition of the popular murder ballad “Stack O’Lee and Billy Lyons.” When faced with the racial subjugation upon his return to Senatobia, Mississippi from Chicago, Illinois, just like the ruthless Stack O’Lee, Burnside kills for his land. The tension between humor and violence in his rendition of “Stack O’Lee and Billy Lyons” informs this interpretation of Burnside’s ruthless defense of and connection to his sharecrop land.

Access Type

Open Access