Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




As a young child, Tara Elgin Holley knew little of her mother’s actual character. Raised by her grandparents and then by her aunt, she desperately wanted to understand the mother who was institutionalized shortly after her birth. In her aunt’s attic she found an unexpected treasure trove: her mother’s preserved musical recordings and show dresses. At first the clothing was just a way for Holley to be near her mother, but once the costume was on, Holley’s sense of self fell away. She writes in her memoir, “I would clamber into the beautiful red dress, the long skirt pooling around my feet, the collar slipping off my thin little-girl shoulders. With one hand, I would hold the dress up; with the other, I would grip my broomstick microphone. I became Dawn Elgin, the glamorous Hollywood entertainer” (Holley 46). Holley may only have been a child, but her imaginative journey into her mother Dawn’s past foreshadows a lifetime of searching for her identity in the context of her mother’s mental illness. Her search is made more intense as Holley’s role switches from daughter to caretaker.