Writing Programs for Veterans and How to Start One

Courtesy Southeast Missouri State University
I chuckled as Vietnam War veteran Jay Harden read his unpublished essay, “My Burning Boyhood,” about summertime adventures with his cousin Bix in a rural Georgia town.

“I did not know worry, responsibility, or caution. I was both invincible and naïve, and had the scars to prove it. Bix and I had free reign over the town. We took off in the morning, with unlimited enthusiasm but no particular plan, and often did not return until supper, munching sour grass and pecans along the way and occasionally roasting grasshoppers. Why our parents allowed this, I do not know. I suspect they knew it was better to free us than confine us in a sweltering house or an overly familiar, small yard, places where noisy boys required attention. We never asked for permission. And we never begged for forgiveness, either–well, hardly ever. We were doing our natural best, just being boys.”

I was mesmerized as Iraq War veteran Levi Bollinger read with detached calm his poem, "Distant Seitz," a word picture so vivid I felt I was in it.

"Still, we gaze into the ethereal mess,
where unseen mortars sail,
whistle through the steamy
atmosphere, plunge down,
down, into a wild fray of
splayed camo-netting and
sandbag-shelled tents, rip
themselves apart amid
grids of connex boxes,
burst and slash,
shred and mangle.
Soldiers there hunker
in bunkers below,
probably smoking,
probably cursing,
probably wanting
to sleep."

Bollinger teaches high school English and Harden is unemployable from combat-related trauma.They live in Missouri.

Writing by American Warriors
"Distant Seitz" is one of three Bollinger poems in Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors, Volume I, an anthology of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry by veterans and their families. Harden has a poem, photo, and an essay in the anthology and was awarded Best Writing from a Missouri Writer for the essay, "Between Wives." The anthology was published in 2012 by Southeast Missouri State University Press in partnership with the Warriors Arts Alliance of the Missouri Humanities Council. It includes works submitted for the book and entries in a national competition judged by notable authors and poets. Competition is underway for volume two; no entry fee is required and submissions are accepted until July 1, 2013. 

“Our stories are the most important vehicles we have to connect the dots between our pasts, our presents and our futures,” says Deborah Marshall, director of the Alliance. “The understanding we gain of ourselves as we write these stories, and that others gain as they read them, is immeasurable.”

Proud to Be publisher and editor Susan Swartwout says several contributors to volume one have, or are working on, a novel or collection of poems. “I hope someday that the University Press will be able to publish a series of full-length creative-writing books by veterans. Only a small percentage of published writing about the Iraq conflict is creative work.”

Writing Programs for Veterans
This is an incomplete list. For programs in your area check with your local college or university, Veterans Affairs office or facility, library, professional writers’ group, or state humanities council. Share your comments at the end of this post.

How to Start a Veterans Writing Group Includes letters of invitation; meeting agendas; veterans' writings; and techniques for listening, writing, and meditation.

Boston, Massachusetts Area, Northern Essex Community College Open to all veterans, active and inactive. Covers nonfiction, fiction, drama, and poetry. Focus is to write, be heard, and be supported.

Fayetteville, North Carolina, Methodist UniversityMeets monthly. Encourages effective writing and supportive feedback. Members may post their writing on the MU Writing Center website.

Hospitalized Veterans Writing Project, Inc.Publishes Veterans’ Voices magazine three times per year, available by subscription; more than forty writing prizes awarded in each issue. Stories and articles submitted by hospitalized and outpatient veterans served by the Department of Veterans Affairs system. 

Missouri Veterans History Project Volunteers interview and record stories of Missouri veterans. Recordings available to State Historical Society and Library of Congress. Search your state for a similar project. 

New York, Fordham-Westchester University Meets weekly for peer support and feedback on veterans’ writing. Publishes Afterwords anthologies of veterans’ writing.

New York University Meets Saturday afternoons. Offers returning students a year-long workshop fellowship with a generous stipend and half-tuition remission for the year. Fellowship recipients must lead the weekly writing workshop.

Pittsburg, Kansas, Pittsburg State UniversityFor veterans and their families.

Rapid City, South Dakota, Western Dakota Technical Institute Meets the second Saturday of each month. Meetings include guest speakers who tell about their experiences and books.

San Diego CountyProfessional mentors and industry leaders help veterans share, heal, grow, learn, and connect. 

San Diego and Washington, D.C. Seminars and workshops led by working writers who are combat veterans. Publishes the quarterly 0-Dark-Thirty online journal.

Sebastopol, CaliforniaMeets quarterly. Writers may submit their work for publication in Veterans Writers Group Quarterly.

Syracuse, New York, Syracuse University Meets monthly to share and comment on members' writing. Bring a notebook and pen or pencil and be prepared to write.

Veterans History Project Authorized by Congress and managed by American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress. Stories told through correspondence, personal narratives, and visual materials. Website lists links to many oral history sites. 

Warrior WritersSupports healing and community building in workshops, retreats, trainings, and events throughout the United States using writing, painting, photography, and other media.

Tell about a writing program for veterans in your area or your experience with one.


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