Date of Award

Spring 5-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)




Creative Writing

Committee Director

John P. McManus

Committee Member

Molly M. Brown

Committee Member

Kent Wascom


Growing up in the 1950s in Winaway, Washington worked for Johanna Olsson as a kid, after that not so much. In 1962, her mother died of cancer. She was 11. Her family struggled with the adjustment. At 15, she befriended Alejandro, a college student who lived in the town across the river with the other nonwhites. She was reading Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises at the time and realized she wanted more. She wanted to sit at a café in Madrid with people from other countries and cultures like Alejandro and Hemingway’s characters.

In 1965, Jo’s classmates were being drafted for the Vietnam War. During her high school years, they were coming home in body bags. Restless and longing, Jo quit college after two years and moved to Los Angeles, hoping the city might open a door to Spain. But the mind-numbing typist job she had was a dead end. Her boyfriend suggested they head for Pennsylvania, closer to Madrid.

Like Jo’s hometown, Milltown, Pennsylvania’s economy centered around energy. Unlike nuclear power, however, the coal industry in the 1970s was in sharp decline. People were out of work. Jo’s low-paying job in a department store was another dead end. She realized she not only needed a way out but a way in. So, she applied to USWorld; the premier airline in the country which offered a London base for stewardesses. But Jo’s family wanted her to work for an airline closer to home. Her boyfriend wanted her to stay. Worse, Jo’s final interview with USWorld went badly. While she waited for their letter, she was offered three other jobs, none with a path to Madrid. They wanted her decision soon.

When the USWorld letter finally arrived, Jo’s life changes. From London she flies the world. But her family is distressed, classmates die in Vietnam and the oil embargo is crippling the airlines. When her crew is evacuated from war-ravaged Beirut, USWorld is bankrupt. Jo is furloughed and Madrid fades further away in the distance.


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