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Weekly Round-Up: Summer Reading List

AMERICA AFTER 9-11 flyer

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “Summer Reading List” Edition. In this space we share links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

The first week of summer is in the books, and it’s time to share my summer reading list. Before I get too far along, here’s my opportunity to remind you about today’s event, which is detailed in the flyer above.

For me, once summer has finally arrived, I like to mark my long summer days by the books I complete. Whether I’m headed to the beach or the mountains, I keep a few good books stashed in a bag or stacked on the nightstand. Here are a few selections from my own summer reading list that will be keeping me busy until autumn.

  1. Fourth of July Creek: A Novel, Smith Henderson
  2. Wynne’s War, Aaron Gwyn
  3. Fives and Twenty-Fives, Michael Pitre
  4. No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes, Anand Gopal
  5. Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order, Charles Hill
  6. The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames, Kai Bird
  7. Preparation for the Next Life, Atticus Lish
  8. Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China, Evan Osnos
  9. Seriously Not All Right: Five Wars in Ten Years, Ron Capps
  10. Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, Steve Coll
  11. To Live or to Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan, Nicholas Schmidle
  12. The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014, Carlotta Gall
  13. The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth, Mark Mazzetti
  14. My Life as a Foreign Country: A Memoir, Brian Turner

Here we go.

  1. Iraq has been in the news quite a bit over the last few weeks. As we have all heard, and depending on who was talking at the time, there’s much blame to be laid at the feet of both administrations, the Iraqi government, and the increasingly unstable security situation throughout the entire Middle East region. I’ll leave talk of victory and/or defeat to the historians, and instead posit that Brian Caster, Phil Klay and Elliot Ackerman have had some rather thoughtful things to say about it all in outlets such as NewsweekNew York Times, and The New Yorker. Beyond smart vet commentary, no one gets it more right than Dexter Filkins, who has had some really good short pieces for The New Yorker over the last couple of weeks, along with a longer piece he wrote a few months back about Iraq.
  2. My heart nearly stopped when I saw that Marilynne Robison’s upcoming novel, Lila, is excerpted on the FSG blog. If you are anything of a super-fan like me, you will read the excerpt multiple times hoping that somehow the brief passage would magically turn itself into the book.
  3. If you were wondering what Gordon Lish is up to these days, you should read this interesting Newsweek profile of the once iconic literary editor to several great short story writers.
  4. For-profit colleges have been ripping off veterans – and the US government – for years. Despite this, and despite the fact that VSOs and elected officials have turned a blind eye, The Center for Investigative Reporting and The Daily Beast have teamed up to take a comprehensive look at how these school are preying on student veterans and straddling vets with worthless college degrees and large amounts of debt. Also, if you are a vet who used your GI Bill, The Center for Investigative Reporting wants to hear from you.
  5. There are times when a writer gets it right; there are times when a writer gets it wrong. And unfortunately for Dave Eggers, he gets it totally wrong in his new book. Read Phil Klay’s super-smart New York Times Sunday Book Review of what “has gone terribly wrong” in Eggers’s new novel.
  6. War on the Rocks posted their summer reading list. After you have read through that, you should then check out Peter Munson’s commentary on Iraq.
  7. This article in The Guardian on ghost writing for powerful politicians and non-disclosure agreements makes the 2010 Roman Polanski film, The Ghostwriter, all the more unsettling.

Have a great week.


Weekly Round-Up: Summer Writing Intensive

Summer Writing Intensive

Photo Credit: Marlboro College

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “Summer Writing Intensive” Edition. In this space we share links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

We’re happy to announce that we finalized a partnership with Marlboro College – my alma mater – to provide veterans and civilians with an opportunity to study writing for a week in a community of literary-minded folks. We are honored to co-sponsor the Summer Writing Intensive, and it means a great deal to us to have it held at Marlboro College, which had a significant influence in the founding of Words After War. Plus, for those of you who have never been, Vermont is paradise in August.

A few of us started this journey a little over a year ago, and we are now a community. This week in August will serve as validation that our literary community is both growing and also believes immensely in our mission. This will be an amazing opportunity for everyone, no matter your writing or education level. We hope to see many of you there, especially our military families.

Read our press release here, and find out more below:

Apply Now!

About the Summer Writing Intensive

Over the course of five days (Sun, Aug 3 – Fri, Aug 8, 2014), you will join a group of writers – professional writers, professors and other students interested in honing their craft – on the Marlboro Campus. You will participate in workshops during the day, and in the evenings you will write, talk and have fun with other writers. You will live in a dorm on Marlboro’s beautiful southern Vermont campus in the company of other program participants. Meals are included and served in the dormitory.

Workshops will include:

  • discussions of literature;
  • readings and workshops with professional writers of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry;
  • workshops to develop critiques of your own work;
  • sessions on drafting and editing with college faculty and other program participants.

Cost: The cost of the program, which includes all workshops, lodging and food, is $500.

In the spirit of Marlboro’s founders, all veterans, military spouses, gold star children, as well as those currently serving on active, reserve or guard duty are eligible for a Veteran’s Writing Grant which will entitle them to attend the Intensive at no cost.

Limited scholarships for non-veterans are also available.

The Veteran’s Writing Grant form and the non-veteran financial aid form is now available.

About Marlboro College

The Summer Writing Intensive grows out of Marlboro College’s fundamental commitment to writing. Marlboro was founded in 1946 by veterans returning from World War II who wanted to create a different kind of college—one where students were not only participants but also active contributors to the academic and community life of campus. Writing is at the core of the curriculum these veterans designed: Marlboro’s Clear Writing Requirement stems from the belief that clear writing leads to clear thinking, and means that clear writing in all its forms is a constant focus in the intellectual, political and social life of the Marlboro Community.

Learn more about the Writing Intensive’s lead faculty member, John Sheehy, and the application process for veterans hoping to complete a degree at Marlboro.

About Words After War

Co-founded by Brandon Willitts, veteran, writer and Marlboro alum, Words After War is a literary organization with a mission to change the national conversation around veteran issues by including civilians in that conversation. Through high-quality literary programming, Words After War provides veterans and civilians with opportunities to examine conflict and war through the lens of literature.

Questions? Contact the Ariel Brooks, Director of Non Degree Programs at or 802-451-7118.

Here we go.

  1. Elliot Ackerman penned an excellent piece for The Daily Beast on a Marine combat veteran who went to Syria and disappeared. According to Ackerman, groups of veterans are returning to the Middle East drawn by nostalgia for war, and for some of them it has brought about significant consequences for themselves and their families.
  2. Over on The Atlantic, you can see powerful images from WWI. Please be warned, many of these photos are graphic depictions of war violence.
  3. Military Times published a rather damning article on how now-retired Army Gen. David Petraeus misplaced the file of Army Capt. William Swenson, who received the Medal of Honor last year. And according to the Army’s Inspector General, Petraeus also recommended that the honor be downgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross.
  4. The Daily Beast has an exclusive article on how the CIA is dismantling its Afghan counterterrorist forces in the southern and eastern parts of the country. The tragic part of this situation is that we already know how it’s going to end. If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars for an in-depth understanding of the CIA’s involvement in Afghanistan from the late-1970’s to the early-2000’s.
  5. For the past few weeks, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) has been embroiled in controversy, leading some VSOs to call for the resignation of VA Secretary Shinseki. Jake Siegal wrote a terrific piece on the scandal for The Daily BeastPolitico ran an op-ed of support for Shinseki; and MSNBC got a smart take on the scandal by our friend, Ann Weeby.
  6. Adam Weinstein wrote a sad post for Gawker on Facebook’s refusal to remove the grisly series of photographs a Marine veteran had taken of his suicide, despite several requests from his friends and veterans’ organizations.
  7. Barnes and Noble Review published an interesting interview between the talented literary siblings, Benjamin and Jennifer Percy.

Have a great week.


Weekly Round-Up: A Female Philoctetes

female philoctetes

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “A Female Philoctetes” Edition. In this space we share links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

This weekend I had the unique pleasure of participating in a read-through and discussion with a few veterans and the cast of A Female Philoctetes (a production from Aquila Theatre, set to run at BAM on 4/16 – 4/19). Originally written by Sophocles, Philoctetes is named for its protagonist, who was a warrior that found himself wounded and later marooned on an island for over a decade. Like many of Sophocles’ works, Philoctetes is layered with meaning, yet this play especially resonates with war veterans, as there is an unavoidable theme of how the physical and psychological wounds of war manifest themselves, long after soldiers have left the battlefield.

In the Aquila Theatre production, the title character will be played by Julia Crockett, adding further nuance and complexity to how our own society understands the trauma of war, especially when placed in the context of women service members in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

When I was a young writer still trying to find my voice, I often overlooked the influence of classical texts on my writing. But eventually, after having read Sophocles, I’d come to better understand the wartime experience. Then I got a better sense of the pitfalls of idealism after reading Cervantes. Because of Shakespeare, I understood the universal pain of an absent father. Later, I’d come to know the dangers of absolute power through the works of Melville. When I graduated from college, a friend asked me so summarize, in a single sentence, what I’d learned from all those books: People haven’t changed all that much over time.

Here we go.

  1. Filmmaker Errol Morris penned a rather fascinating four-part series, “The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld,” in the New York Times, which is an in-depth analysis of the rhetorical devices and policy decisions of the former Secretary of Defense.
  2. For the New York Times, Charles Isherwood reviews Paula Vogel’s, “Don Juan Comes Home From Iraq,” a new play where the protagonist, a US Marine, is under such “destabilizing pressure of his wartime experience, not to mention the cruel workings of his own personal demons [he] disintegrates before our eyes.” The play is running through 4/20/14 at the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia, PA.
  3. Novelist Ted Thompson talks with Town & Country about his masterful debut, The Land of Steady Habits, which is a worthy addition to the great commuter novels of Cheever, Updike, and Yates.
  4. Men’s Journal sheds light on one of the great tragedies of these wars: “The Interpreters We Left Behind.”
  5. In The Washington Post, Bing West, former assistant secretary of defense and combat Marine grunt, reviews American Spartan, a book about the bizarre case of Maj. Jim Gant, a special forces soldier in Afghanistan, as written by Gant’s own wife, Ann Scott Tyson.
  6. Over on The New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog, editor Barry Harbaugh weighs in on the absence of the New York book editor voice in the new essay collection, MFA vs NYC.
  7. The Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation recently completed the most comprehensive poll on the experience of post-9/11 vets to date. Of the many interesting statistics, here’s one that stuck out: One in two veterans say they know a fellow service member who has attempted or committed suicide, and more than 1 million suffer from relationship problems and experience outbursts of anger — two key indicators of post-traumatic stress. One way to treat PTSD is through the use of service dogs, and Texas Monthly ran a moving story on the journey of service dogs from their initial training at women’s prisons in Texas to a nonprofit that assigns them to wounded veterans throughout the US.

Have a great week.