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Weekly Round-Up: “Art Monster” Edition



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

The narrator of Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation is a fact-checker of “fun facts” at a science magazine. The novel, split into fragments, is peppered with these facts. Some are more fun than others. The narrator applies the same discipline to her own story–we are granted small glimpses into her life, her family, her neuroses and ambitions. Some of these ambitions grind against one another. Art and family is the defining conflict of Dept. of Speculation. Here is a representative fragment:

For years, I kept a Post-it note above my desk. WORK NOT LOVE! was what it said. It seemed a sturdier kind of happiness.

Of course many artists manage to love their families and produce meaningful, satisfying work. But they aren’t usually lauded for this act of sustained balance. We prefer stories about madmen and madwomen scribbling away in some hole and leaving a wake of familial destruction in their pursuit of artistic immortality. This is why reading biographies of writers you admire is so dangerous. It often seems they produced the art you so strongly identified with–those words that made you feel less alone–despite themselves. Their work is a shield, a way to demonstrate their understanding of humanity while embodying many of our species’ worst qualities. These are not your friends.

The balance between art and life is a shifting ground of boredom and compromise. For one thing, many of us need to eat and warm our modest shelters. Benefactors are hard to come by. Despite the expanding market for online content there are few paying jobs for literary writers. The marketplace has produced a wave of freelancers with expensive degrees who cobble together a few bucks here and there pitching ideas to over-worked editors, blogging and posting, oversharing in the name of recognition.

It’s a spectacularly unprofitable hobby.

Over the past two weeks I’ve been pruning grape vines at a vineyard. I wear pink gardening gloves. I had a professor who said menial labor was the best work for a writer. He recommended farming in the morning and writing in the afternoon. I’ve tried to keep his words and eventual success in mind while clipping the canes.

For the vast majority of writers life consists of doing one thing while a voice in your head insists you should be doing something else. We hate the voice but fear the day it packs up and leaves in search of a better vessel. If the voice abandoned us we’d be left with just the menial labor. Just the life.

Your 7 links:

1. If you have the means and opportunity to attend the PEN World Voices Festival, writers Geoff Dyer, Justin Go, Liesl Schillinger and Janne Teller will “explore the influence of WWI literature on writers working today.”

2. Read the fiction debut of Words After War Policy Fellow David Eisler!

3. David Foster Wallace’s estate is not happy with The End of the Tour.

4. This excellent piece in The Awl explores the murkiness of Faulkner scholarship.

5. Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner goes By the Book.

6. Mary Gaitskill on coolness and Celine Dion.

7. Arresting visuals perfect for writing prompts: LAPD photo archive.

Have a great week.


Weekly Round-Up: Interlochen

Peter van Agtmael

Photo Credit: Peter van Agtmael

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

Big news this week: I drank my first iced coffee of the year. I’m going to enjoy every bit of these warmer days, and ready myself for the endless days of summer.

Speaking of summer, we are planning some amazing programs in a few different places. In NYC, there will be a June workshop for women – both vets and civilians – taught by Jen Percy and Mariette Kalinowski. Stay tuned for more info on that. In Vermont, we are in the planning stages of our most ambitious venture yet: a weeklong writing seminar during the first week of August. Details are still being finalized, but there’s much more to come on this soon.

In Michigan, join Words After War instructor Matt Gallagher at the Interlochen Writers Retreat during the second week of June. The esteemed Interlochen Center for the Arts was founded in 1928 and is located in northwest Michigan. Spend four days writing new material, attending craft talks by award-winning faculty, and enjoying lakeside lunches and evening readings, all while making connections in the literary world that will last for years to come.

Matt will be teaching “From Blog to Book,” a course designed to help students develop their blogging voice and sense of unified narrative, expanding their writing skill-set with the long-term purpose of turning their blog entries into book-length manuscripts.

The Writers Retreat runs from Monday, June 16 to Thursday, June 19, 2014. Registration information can be found here.

Jen Percy and Katey Schultz have both previously taught at Interlochen, so there’s a nice lineage of sorts for Words After War. If you have the vacation time available, you should spend it writing with Gallagher in Michigan.

Here we go.

  1. A decade after Pat Tillman’s death, many questions still remain unanswered. In this two-part video series for ESPN’s Outside the Lines, two of the soldiers present that day speak about the friendly fire incident that led to one of the most controversial moments in the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
  2. Stars and Stripes reported this week that special ops troops are committing suicide at a record pace. Adm. William McRaven, commander U.S. Special Operations Command, has stated that he’s making this his number one priority.
  3. In The Daily Beast, you can read an excerpt from the talented Jess Ruliffson’s “Invisible Wounds,” a graphic novel of illustrated first-person accounts from wounded veterans.
  4. The last few weeks have been an exercise in restraint, as more than a few articles were published that painted veterans with rather broad and inaccurate brushstrokes. As a response, the New York Daily News did a pretty good job at trying to undo the smear campaign brought on by the opinion pages of Guernica, The Nation, New York Times, and many others.
  5. For The Daily Beast, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, marine vet and writer, examines why the PTSD media narrative after Fort Hood has only divided us as a nation.
  6. For The New Yorker’s “Page-Turner” blog, James Salter remembers Peter Matthiessen.
  7. Syria is the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. In the May edition of Vanity Fair, James Harkin reports on the disappearance of journalists – Austin Tice and Jim Foley – who went missing in 2012 while reporting in Syria.

Last word: If you are looking for a great new book to buy, check out Peter van Agtmael’s Disco Night Sept 11, a powerful book of photographs and vignettes detailing the human cost of war. And if you are in Brooklyn this Thursday, 4/24/2014, check out “Women and War: Helen Benedict, Cara Hoffman, and Katey Schultz,” a discussion at WORD bookstore.

Enjoy your week.


Weekly Round-Up: CONSEQUENCE Magazine


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

In a week filled with misguided reporting on veterans, I want to focus on one publication that’s getting it right. Founded by Vietnam war veteran and writer Greg Kovach, CONSEQUENCE magazine is a literary journal based in Massachusetts with an international focus on literary work that examines the culture and consequences of war.

Volume 6 is set to be released on 4/22/2014, and will be accompanied by a round table discussion on American culture and militarism, featuring panelists Lea Carpenter, Tony Schwalm and Bob Shacochis. The panel’s focus will be on the burden of an all-volunteer force, and how that burden, among other things, has formed a divide in our society between those who have served and those who have not. Volume 6 features writing by Phil Klay, William Snyder, Peter Dale Scott, Susan McCallum-Smith, and many others. 

CONSEQUENCE is an important addition to the canon of contemporary war literature, and it’s by far the best literary journal focusing on war and its aftereffects. If you are in Boston on 4/22/14, I highly recommend you attend the round table discussion, if only to hear two of the smartest writers today – Lea Carpenter and Bob Shacochis – discussing the topic of war. It’s guaranteed to be a very interesting panel.

Here we go.

  1. The recent passing of literary giant Peter Matthiessen was a truly sad day for the world. Matthiessen, a former agent with the CIA, was not only an excellent fiction and nonfiction writer, but he was also one of our greatest environmental advocates. A recent New York Times Magazine profile of him ran just a day after his passing. Within Matthiessen’s work, you’ll find a real energy, curiosity and compassion that belong to one of our great searchers. His influence on the literary world was profound, especially given his hand in the founding of the Paris Review. Through his words, we’ll continue the journey.
  2. Stars and Stripes published a moving story about an Iraqi boy’s struggle to provide for his family before and during the war, as well as his eventual road to American citizenship, manhood, and the United States Marine Corps.
  3. On his Foreign Policy blog, Tom Ricks featured an extensive military reading list from the Australian army. After having read through most of the list, I believe it might be one of the most comprehensive lists ever compiled on the profession of arms.
  4. Longreads has a rather interesting reading list on the business of books.
  5. In The Wall Street Journal, reporter Julian Barnes features the reading habits of General Martin Dempsey, which range from Shakespeare to World War Z.
  6. Even though this should seem self-evident to our population, The Atlantic still must make the case for the importance of studying and teaching poetry.
  7. And when faced with stupidity in the media, sometimes, humor is the best response. Thank you Duffel Blog for the sanity check.

Have a great week.


Weekly Round-Up: “End of Semester” Edition

Author Jen Percy speaks with workshop attendees at Mellow Pages Library.

Author Jen Percy speaks with workshop attendees at Mellow Pages Library.

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

The Words After War Writing Workshop’s spring semester came to a close this week with a visit from Jen Percy, author of the acclaimed Demon Camp. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Jen and all of our visiting writers for sharing their hard-earned wisdom. And thanks to instructor Matt Gallagher, our talented students and Mellow Pages Library for hosting. Stay tuned for info on next semester’s workshop.

In other news, we ran our first contest, a benchmark for any literary organization. Congratulations to Robert Stuart (@rjstuart) (#FF!!) for his winning “tweet story” submission and our heartfelt thanks to everyone who participated, fav’d and RT’d. Here’s to many more contests with ever-expanding character limits and ever-juicier prizes.

Without further ado, here are your 7 links:

1. RIP photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus. View some of her work here.

2. I had the “opportunity” to spend some time in storage units this week. I’d love to see a breakdown of storage units per capita, by state or county. Do we accumulate junk when we flock to a new place or when we leave? If I had a couple hundred grand I’d build a storage empire in the North Dakota fracking belt. Of course Vice found an art gallery in a Manhattan storage unit.

3. The “Rambo narrative” doesn’t help anyone.

4. “I’m going to Afghanistan again. The long war is almost over and I’ll be part of how it ends. This time I’ll write about it.”

5. The New York Times wonders if artists have a special obligation to address injustice.

6. Kayla Williams explores women at war.

7. Meanwhile, George W. Bush keeps painting, with a focus on portraits, landscapes and his pets. Is he America’s most prominent (insider) “outsider” artist?

Have a great weekend.


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.


Weekly Round-Up: Tweet Story Contest

"Fence Bed Springs" / Bunny Paffenroth

“Fence Bed Springs” / Bunny Paffenroth

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

Writers secretly love limitations. Too much freedom is paralyzing. We’d rather bump against the rails and get all bothered than wander endlessly. Everyone knows the six-word story. It’s a useful exercise, especially if you find your sentences are lacking a certain sting. Here’s two off the top of my head:

We met on Tinder. So what.
For sale: gym clothes, never worn.

And now the 140-character story is having a moment. The recent Twitter Fiction Festival (to which I was a contributor) generated much debate as to the platform’s literary merits. Words After War is getting into the very short fiction game. We encourage brevity, find artificial constraints inspiring and believe that sharing work builds community. It is in that spirit that we introduce The Words After War Tweet Story Contest.

Here’s the deal: one tweet, one winner, one grand prize.

We will compile and RT deserving entries tweeted @ us all next week (3/24-3/28), but you can also email your entry (MIKE at WORDSAFTERWAR dot ORG). Anybody–veteran, civilian, fledging scribbler or world renowned wordsmith–can participate. We will not take into account how many followers you have or any other content outside of your single tweet entry.

What’s the grand prize? Excellent question. The winner will receive a care package of Words After War-curated reading material delivered directly to their doorstep. Great reads, big value.

There is no prompt, no hashtag. If tweeting your entry at Words After War (@wordsafterwar), please place it in quotations, so we know it’s fiction as opposed to just well-written spam. We look forward to reading your work!

With the fine print out of the way, here are your 7 links.

1. Teju Cole is probably the best known practitioner of literary Twitter.

2. Isaac Fitzgerald interviewed Cole and others in Buzzfeed Books.

3. The #Twitter Fiction Festival brought together writers of every stripe and provided an opportunity to explore the format with big-name institutional support.

4. And here is a shameless, Storify-powered compilation of my own #Twitter Fiction Festival contribution.

Moving away from Twitter…

5. Here’s Keith Gessen on Ukraine.

6. And here is Zack Baddorf and Mitch Swenson’s video post from Crimea.

7. John Banville (as “Benjamin Black”) has written a new Philip Marlowe novel. Confused? Read an interview with Banville/Black in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Have a great weekend.

– Mike

Weekly Round-Up: Matt Power

Matt Power

Image Credit: GQ

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

A few days ago, Matt Power passed away in Uganda while on assignment for Men’s Journal. For those who are unfamiliar with his work, Matt Power was a talented storyteller, curious adventurer, and compassionate witness for those who live on the far edges of society. From the first time I read his work, my mind ran wild with questions of how one man could somehow manage to live the life of my own imagination: vagabond train hopper, advocate, sailor on a make-shift raft along the Mississippi, and writer for some of the best publications of our time. Any one of these things alone would be an incredible bullet on a resume; Matt Power did them all together, and that made him a hero in my view of the world. It’s tragic when any person’s life and talent is cut short, but it’s especially sad when there is clearly so much more life left to live. We dedicate this week’s round-up to the memory of Matt Power, whose words will live on and continue to enrich the lives of those who read them.

Here we go.

  1. Abe Streep, an Outside senior editor, wrote a moving tribute to his friend, which includes some of Matt’s amazing advice on life, “Lay it out.”
  2. GQ collected the stories Matt wrote for the publication here.
  3. Longform Podcast interviewed Matt back in February 2013, listen to it here.
  4. Men’s Journal collected the stories Matt wrote for the publication here.
  5. Atavist removed the pay wall for Matt’s story, “Island of Secret,” where Matt follows geologist John Lane, who is set on proving the existence of the elusive tree kangaroo on the remote Pacific island of New Britain.
  6. Harper’s collected the stories Matt wrote for the publication here.
  7.  Everything else Matt wrote can be found on his website here.

Spend the week reading.


Weekly Round-Up: Reading Lists


Photo Credit: Jon McNaught and New York Times

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

In college, I often chose a course based on the professor’s reading lists. Even today, whenever I attend a literary event or talk, I’m most curious about the reading lists or influences of the writers and thinkers on stage. But reading lists are tricky things, in the same way mix tapes can be tricky. Reading lists aren’t always made better by sheer volume or by being as comprehensive as possible. More than that, though, both reading lists and mix tapes tend to have greater impact when there’s a theme or some organization to them. And like the best mix tapes I have ever received, reading lists are a labor of love, and usually say much more about the curator than they ever say about music or books. That’s why we created the recommended reading section on the website. Also, Matt Gallagher has provided the writing workshop’s reading list. So, if you want to know what the writing workshop is reading, but you aren’t able to attend, here’s your chance.

Words After War Reading List

Fall 2013

Eclipse of the Sunnis, by Deborah Amos

“Men in Black,” by Colby Buzzell

A Rumor of War, by Phil Caputo

Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain

Black Hearts, by Jim Frederick

“Spoken from the Hedgerows,” by Jorie Graham

“A Raisin in the Sun,” by Lorraine Hansberry

“Hiroshima,” by John Hersey

“OIF,” by Phil Klay

“Helmet for my Pillow,” by Bob Leckie

“Memories of West Street and Lepke,” by Robert Lowell

Armies of the Night, by Norman Mailer

“The Scariest Little Corner of the World,” by Luke Mogelson

“Noon Wine,” by Katherine Anne Porter

“Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” by Katherine Anne Porter

“A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” by J.D. Salinger

“For Esmé – with Love and Squalor,” by J.D. Salinger

V-Letter and Other Poems, by Karl Shapiro

With the Old Breed, by E.B. Sledge

“A Trip to Hanoi,” by Susan Sontag

Meditations in Green, by Stephen Wright

Spring 2014

Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Red Cavalry, by Isaac Babel

I Saw Ramallah, by Mourid Barghouti

The Watch, by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya

Eleven Days, by Lea Carpenter

“You Know When the Men Are Gone,” by Siobhan Fallon

“Inside the Break,” by Siobhan Fallon

“Shooting an Elephant,” by George Orwell

Burmese Days, by George Orwell

Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell

The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers

“The New Veterans,” by Karen Russell

Season of Migration to the North, by Tayeb Salih

“Home,” by George Saunders

The Village of Ben Suc, by Jonathan Schell

The Gangster We Are Looking For, by Le Thi Diem Thuy

And now for the round-up. Here we go.

  1. Phil Klay’s Redeployment was released to overwhelmingly rave reviews, including an amazing review by Dexter Filkins on the cover of this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. If you are not able to attend one of Phil’s many readings, you can listen to him discuss his work on the New York Times Book Review podcast, and you can also read Matt Gallagher’s interview with Phil in the Paris Review.
  2. Our friend, Megan McCloskey, recently published an exceptional piece of journalism in ProPublica that left me sad and angry. She profiles the agency responsible for finding the missing remains of American service members, and having once nearly taken orders to the agency and been close to those involved with the program, I am frustrated that I never had the opportunity to make it better.
  3. On the At War blog from the New York Times, David Eisler examines the military-civilian divide on university campuses with the return of the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps to Columbia University after an absence of more than 40 years. And on Foreign Policy, Adrian Bonenberger takes on the future of warfare that these new cadets and midshipmen like those at Columbia can expect to face in the coming decades.
  4. Brian Van Reet gives an excellent review for The Daily Beast of Hassan Blasim’s The Corpse Exhibition, which is one of the first books to explore the Iraq War from an Iraqi’s perspective. Also from The Daily Beast, Lea Carpenter interviews Susan Minot on Africa, Joseph Kony, and child soldiers
  5. General Stanley McChrystal’s memoir, My Share of the Task, was recently released in paperback, and he was interviewed on WNYC‘s “The Brian Lehrer Show,” where he gave a surprising assessment on Afghanistan and Iraq. You can also read about what he’s been up to since his retirement, as Newsweek profiled his new consulting firm, The McChrystal Group.
  6. The Daily Beast reprinted Elliot Ackerman’s moving eulogy for his friend, Marine Master Sergeant Aaron Torian, who was killed in action in February in Afghanistan. Elliot’s eulogy is a stark reminder that we are a nation still at war.
  7. Amtrak’s writing residency, or #AmtrakResidency, application is now officially live. After you apply, let’s us know if you would like to go as a Words After War writer. And if you need a few more books to add to a reading list while riding the rails, here are a couple of the books General Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recommended during in interview with PBS Newshour.

Have a great week.