Archive | October, 2013

Words After War Reading Series “Danger Close: Writers on War”

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Our first public event, “Danger Close: Writers on War” will begin at 4 PM on November 2 at ACME Studio, 63 N. 3rd Street, Brooklyn, NY. Tickets–which you can purchase HERE–are $10. If you can’t make it to the event, please consider purchasing a ticket for somebody who can, or make a ticket-sized donation!

We are very excited and a little bit nervous. We have somehow managed to land a trio of excellent writers and an extremely accomplished moderator:

Brian Castner

After leaving the active military, Brian became a consultant and contractor, training Army and Marine Corps units prior to their tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. His writing has appeared in a number of national and regional publications, including The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Foreign Policy, Publisher’s Weekly, and Garry Trudeau’s The Sandbox anthology. Brian lives outside of Buffalo, New York with his wife and four sons. ”The Long Walk” is his first book.

Katey Schultz

Katey Schultz grew up in Portland, Oregon, and is most recently from Celo, North Carolina. She is a graduate of the Pacific University MFA in Writing Program and recipient of the Linda Flowers Literary Award from the North Carolina Humanities Council. “Flashes of War: Short Stories” is her first book.

Matt Gallagher

Matt Gallagher joined the U.S. Army in 2005 and received a commission in the armored cavalry. Following a fifteen-month deployment in Iraq, Gallagher left the army in 2009. He is the author of “Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War” and the co-editor of “Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War.”

Moderator, Quil Lawrence

Quil Lawrence is an award-winning correspondent for NPR News, covering the millions of Americans who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as they transition to life back at home.

“Danger Close: Writers on War” is the first of an ongoing reading series that will include both veterans and civilians whose work engages with war and its aftermath. Lawrence, Gallagher, Castner, and Schultz will share personal stories of documenting and researching war, as well as the complications of writing war in the 21st century.

We sincerely hope to see you there!

Best,

Brandon and Mike

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Weekly Round-Up: Green Monster Edition

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Credit: Charlie Walker/Flickr

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: Green Monster Edition. In this space we share seven links relevant to our mission of improving the veteran-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

Baseball games are way too long. Everyone knows this. And it has been a problem for a while now. I once had to withdraw from a Medieval Lit class due to absences accrued during the 2004 ALCS. These (classic) games were stretching to 2 AM. And once they finally wrapped you still had to walk off the adrenaline, zap an Elio’s, decompress with whatever was on TNT.

Anyway, by the time 10 AM class rolled around I was in no shape to discuss Scott Baiowolf. I sent a chummy email to the professor after the first missed class (this was the dreaded Monday-Wednesday-Friday formation) and he responded in a somewhat understanding tone. But by the end of the week his tone had changed and once again I was forced to visit my buddies at the registrar’s office.

Brandon is off the grid this week and you know what they say, when the cat’s away, the mouse…buys frozen dinners at Rite Aid.

Here we go with the links:

1. An impressively comprehensive compilation of writerly advice, via Brainpicker.

2. A Bookriot reading list of coming-of-age war stories. Got something to add?

3. An interview with Donna Tartt. Her third novel, The Goldfinch, dropped this week.

4. Which states are best for student veterans? Check out this map.

5. This guy trained pigeons to smuggle cigars out of Cuba.

6. The New Yorker opens up the Jack Handey archives.

7. Here’s what happens when writers get sober.

Will you be in NYC on 11/2? Come to our first public event, featuring some of our favorite writers! Honestly, we would love to see you. Information and tickets HERE. Can’t attend but interested in getting involved? Make a tax-deductible donation HERE.

Have a great weekend.

-Mike

Questions? Concerns? Follow us on Twitter and “like” us on Facebook.

Danger Close: The Long Walk and the Loss of a Fallen Friend

The Long Walk

EOD1 Sean Carson

Brandon Willitts writes about how Brian Castner’s memoir The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows helped him through the loss of his friend, EOD1 Sean Carson.

Shortly after I moved to New York City, news came that an old Navy buddy, Sean Carson, was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan. The loss of Sean seemed to rip a hole right through me, for a lot of reasons really, but mostly because it felt like no matter how far I traveled away from Afghanistan, or how long ago I left that war, it might never leave me.

Sometimes a book comes along at exactly the right moment you most need to read it. I found solace in Brian Castner’s extraordinary memoir, The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows.

Brian Castner is a former Air Force EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) officer – Sean was a Navy EOD technician – and his memoir is a magnificent portrayal of his experiences dealing with the confusion of war, struggles with coming home, and learning how to manage his difficult post-war emotions. The real power of Castner’s writing comes from the raw honesty of his struggles with PTSD – his frustration and confusion were palpable and real for me.

Through his writing, I felt like someone was throwing me a lifeline: the pain he described felt like my own pain, the confusion he described felt like my own confusion. It has become one of the most difficult reads of my life, while also being the most necessary.

After I finished The Long Walk the hole in my heart felt smaller. The loss of every one of my brothers now hurts a little less sharply than before. I might never completely put my war behind me, but somehow knowing that someone else has also struggled with such similar emotions, allows me to feel much less alone.

–Brandon

Will you be in NYC on 11/2? Come to our first public event, “Danger Close: Writers on War” featuring Brian Castner and some of our favorite writers! Information and tickets HERE. Can’t attend but interested in getting involved? Make a tax-deductible donation HERE.

 

 

Weekly Round-Up: First Prize Edition

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Words After War workshop hosted by Mellow Pages Library and led by Matt Gallagher.

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: First Prize Edition. In this space we share seven links relevant to our mission of improving the veteran-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

For the most part, being a writer is a pretty thankless job filled with long, solitary spells of slippery inspiration and storm clouds of self-doubt. But sometimes, if you grind it out for a very long time (or if you’re a genius), you’ll see some recognition. In the literary world, this recognition usually takes the form of one of a few well-known awards. Because most of these books don’t move huge numbers or make a mass cultural impression, these prize committees hold great power. And sometimes they mess up! There was no Pulitzer for fiction last year. The three-person panel made their recommendations (The Pale King, Train Dreams and Swamplandia!) and then…nothing. Now, some would say those were three odd, imperfect choices: an unfinished novel published posthumously, a novella that first appeared in The Paris Review some years earlier and a charming yet flawed first novel. But most agree that any winner would’ve been better than none at all. Plenty of prize-winning books have dropped in esteem over the years. No reason to spin thumbs.

Here we go with the links:

1. An interview with Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson, via Mental Floss.

2. Writers reflect on Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize in The New Yorker.

3. Feeling old and/or unaccomplished? The winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize is 28.

4. Here are the finalists for the National Book Award, including Navy veteran Thomas Pynchon. Who do you like? (BONUS LINK: Michael Chabon on Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge).

5. Read Words After War instructor Matt Gallagher on William Swenson’s Medal of Honor in The Daily Beast.

6. Maurice Decaul talks war poetry and jazz with MacArthur Fellow Vijay Iyer on NPR.

7. Former Navy EOD John Ismay explains chemical weapons.

Will you be in NYC on 11/2? Come to our first public event, featuring some of our favorite writers! Information and tickets HERE. Can’t attend but interested in getting involved? Make a tax-deductible donation HERE.

Have a great weekend.

-Mike

Questions? Concerns? Need to get in contact? Follow us on Twitter and “like” us on Facebook.

 

Read an Interview with Co-founder Mike McGrath and the Billfold

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Excerpts from a recent interview with Words After War co-founder Mike McGrath.

Yesterday Mike was interviewed by The Billfold, a financial-literacy site (and part of The Awl Network). They covered a variety of WAW-related topics. Check out some choice excerpts below and click HERE to read the whole thing. And don’t forget to buy your tickets for our first ever public event, “Danger Close: Writers on War,” Nov. 2 at ACME Studio in Brooklyn. Hope to see you there.

The WAW origin story:

I met Brandon Willitts while getting my MFA at the University of Virginia. He was living in Charlottesville, taking classes at the local community college and grappling with a lot of issues that recently returned veterans frequently experience. We met watching football at a watering hole and bonded over writing/lit. The following semester he started a writing group at Piedmont (his community college) with a professor, myself and our friend Lee, another MFA guy. It was just very obvious that Brandon had a lot on his mind and that the group was a very important, almost necessary outlet. At the time I sort of took it for granted because I was taking workshops almost as a job, but later, after I finished grad school and was released into the largely uncaring world I realized that it can be a really effective support network. I missed having readers and deadlines and feedback. Then, after Brandon finished his B.A. in lit he was working as a veterans’ advocate in NYC and one night we were talking about building a writing studio in the woods behind my parents’ house and that somehow led to Words After War

On the benefits of writing workshops:

We’re all protective of our memories, especially painful or traumatic ones, but one benefit of the workshop environment is to experience these memories from another perspective. And that’s healthy.

On the fiscal challenges facing an emerging non-profit:

Right now, we’re running on empty. Meaning, we are entirely self-funded. It has been difficult. We secured a fiscal sponsorship, which allows us to raise money until the IRS approves our 501(c)(3), which, these days, who knows when that will be. We have reached out to friends and family and other people in our extended network, and we are seriously considering a crowdfunding campaign, but in the end we really do believe that the money we need will come, and, in the meantime, we wanted to get the ball rolling so prospective donors would be able to see exactly where their donations would be going.

As always, we thank you for your time and support. Want to help us provide no-cost, high-quality literary programming for veterans, their families and civilian supporters? Make a tax-deductible donation HERE.

Questions? Concerns? Find us on Twitter and Facebook.

 

“Danger Close: Writers on War” – Katey Schultz and Flashes of War

Flashes of War

The Airstream

Over the next few weeks we are going to be using the blog to shine a spotlight on the participants of the first installment of “Danger Close: Writers on War,” a series held at Brooklyn’s ACME Studio on November 2, 2013. This week is Katey Schultz, civilian author of Flashes of War.

The panel will include both veterans and civilians whose work engages with war and its aftermath. Award-winning NPR News correspondent Quil Lawrence will serve as moderator for a panel of veteran and civilian authors that will include Matt Gallagher, Brian Castner, Lea Carpenter and Katey Schultz. We hope to see you there!

Allow us to introduce Katey Schultz. Katey’s Flashes of War: Short Stories (Loyola University Maryland, 2013) recently won the Military Writers Society of America’s Gold Medal Award. Read what Duff Brenna of The Los Angeles Review of Books had to say about Katey’s debut collection:

Heartbreaking one moment, triumph the next. Stories filled with an immense humanity, all, together, detailing the trivia, the nonsense, the rudiments and the essentials. The nuts and bolts of war, its lifeblood, its jargon, its maddening absurdities and heroisms and senseless deaths and maimings are laid out in a clear, clean, rhythmic tessellation, united with a deceptively minimalist style that out-Carvers Carver and exposes the traumas of war without any breast-beating outrage. But outrage is what one feels. Outrage and exasperation, as well as a sense of satisfaction at Schultz’s adept achievement.

Katey holds an MFA from Pacific University and is a recipient of the Linda Flowers Literary Award from the North Carolina Humanities Council. She lives in a sweet 1970 Airstream trailer bordering the Pisgah National Forest. Katey’s work illustrates the power of civilian war writing and we are honored that she agreed to be included in this event. Buy her book HERE or buy a copy at the event!

Have a great week.

-Mike

As always, we thank you for your time and support. Want to help us provide no-cost, high-quality literary programming for veterans, their families and civilian supporters? Make a tax-deductible donation HERE.

Questions? Concerns? Find us on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Weekly Round-Up: Shutdown Edition

 

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Sideshow Bob runs for office.

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: Shutdown Edition. In this space we share seven links relevant to our mission of improving the veteran-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

No October surprises yet over here at Words After War. Our inaugural workshop, hosted by Mellow Pages Library and led by instructor Matt Gallagher, is cruising smoothly into its third week. Thanks again to everyone for making this such a great experience.

With the government shutdown trudging through a fourth day, our thoughts are with all those furloughed, working without pay or otherwise affected.

Are you interested in becoming a literary mentor? We are currently seeking accomplished individuals to pair with fledgling veteran writers. Mentors provide editorial feedback and other support via online or in-person appointments. Contact us for more details.

As always, we thank you for your time and support. Want to help us provide no-cost, high-quality literary programming for veterans, their families and civilian supporters? Make a tax-deductible donation HERE.

Without further ado, your weekly round-up:

1. A lengthy and powerful investigative piece on the VA and painkillers.

2. An examination of the contemporary short story.

3. Need a backyard writing studio? Or just some privacy? Here’s a six-step guide to building the Ultimate Treehouse.

4. Watch an interview with David Finkel, author of Thank You for Your Service, on The Colbert Report.

5. A novel by reporter Michael Hastings will be published posthumously.

6. Here’s a comprehensive Q&A on how the shutdown will affect veterans and the military, hosted by Steve Vogel, a reporter for the Washington Post.

7. Poet Bob Hicox warns “if you’re not careful, being in an MFA can get in the way of writing.” Read more here.

Have a great weekend.

-Mike

 

 

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Unquiet Memories: A Reading of Phil Klay’s Short Story Redeployment

Redeployment

Released March 6, 2014

Executive Director Brandon Willitts reviews Phil Klay’s short story, “Redeployment,” and draws a connection between the story and his own homecoming.

Phil Klay’s short story “Redeployment,” which is featured in both Fire and Forget and Granta, as well as in his forthcoming collection Redeployment, begins with one of the finest first lines I have ever read: “We shot dogs.” This line is like a jab to the face, putting the reader on notice that whatever happens next, his or her complete and undivided attention will be required.

As far as war stories go, it’s on par with the best. “Redeployment” skillfully examines the complexities of military service by describing organized violence and war without glorifying either. At the same time, the story balances the emotions of a returned service member – anger, confusion, and heartbreak – without leaning on oversimplification or cliché.

Klay’s prose is clear and concise, giving the story a very measured pace. And the most honest, human moments come not through Klay’s descriptions of the chaos of battle, but instead through the descriptions of those quiet moments of domestic life.

At times, we come to better understand war and it’s aftereffects through the many unspoken words that stand between a husband and wife; other times, it comes through the narrator’s use of understatement:

And that was my homecoming. It was fine, I guess. Getting back feels like your first breath after nearly drowning. Even if it hurts, it’s good.

Those few sentences are all rather subtle phrases, but they become the entry into this marine’s thoughts and emotions. Because he has just returned from his deployment, he hasn’t had the necessary time to process his wartime experience. These lines are as honest as he can be at the time, and that’s what makes them so uncomfortable. And the analogy he draws between drowning and his deployment becomes telling of the difficulty of turning ‘it off’ once he’s back stateside.

In early 2013, I was sitting in an audience, where I was listening to a panel of veteran authors discuss war writing. When it came time for the questions and answers segment, an audience member asked the panel why there weren’t more battle scenes in their works. As soon as the question was asked, every veteran in the room looked at one another and just sort of shrugged. I can’t remember how the panel responded, because honestly I didn’t listen for their response. I didn’t have to – I already knew why.

When people ask me about the war, I have two options, two stories to tell: I can tell a story about the missions where we captured terrorists in Afghanistan, or I can tell a story about the night I sat alone on the curb of Hickam Air Force Base after seven months in the Middle East with no one to pick me up. I don’t think too often about those missions in Afghanistan. But I think nearly every day about that night I came home.

And maybe it’s just me, but stories like “Redeployment” are the types of stories I need to read now. They are the stories that have helped me through the confusion and frustration of sitting on that curb. They are the types of stories I want to read, the types of stories I want to tell. It’s stories like this, and authors like Phil Klay, that have allowed me to better understand and process the “unquiet memories” of my life after I came home.

Listen to Phil Klay talk about his forthcoming collection, Redeployment, published by Penguin Press.

–Brandon