Learning to Communicate with Humans

Document Type



Master of Fine Arts


Creative Writing

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Professor Mary Troy


John Dalton

Shane Seely

Anne Sanow


For nearly seven years, I worked in a lab that studied language, cognition, and memory in captive great apes, bonobos specifically. What follows is inspired by my time there and seeks to address certain truths I witnessed in the apes, but could not uncover or illuminate through a purely scientific lens. It should also, I hope, aspire to illuminate certain truths about humanity as well. This thesis is composed of two pieces. The first is a nonfiction essay, “Worry”, which draws directly from my own experience, retelling a day when I made a potentially dire mistake and was granted an unimaginable kind of forgiveness. “Worry” was selected as a finalist for the Jeffrey E. Smith Editor’s Prize in Nonfiction 2016 by the Missouri Review. It is published in that journal’s Spring 2016 issue.The second piece is the beginning of a novel-length work, “Learning to Communicate with Humans”, that is pure fiction. Although it is inspired by my work at the lab, all of the events and characters are creations of pure imagination.

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