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.

–Brandon

Weekly Round-Up: Reading Lists

Redeployment

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.

–Brandon

Weekly Round-Up: MOOCs Edition

MOOCs

Unpublished DFW essay: The influence of cat memes, MOOCs, and the Internet on modern literary fiction writers.

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

After a short winter break, we’re back and ready to get back to work. As it tends to happen, two weeks of events and news have piled up: the weather turned nice and then terrible again; the defense budget is shrinking; thanks to the influence of capitalism, Arizona is now only a little less crazy and discriminatory than I once suspected; Ukraine ousted its president and then Russia behaved like a scorned lover; #AWP14 annoyingly monopolized my Twitter feed; and I’ll be spending part of my Sundays for a few weeks with a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) from Yale on financial markets.

There’s some lively debate about the social utility of MOOCs, both within academia and tech entrepreneur circles. Some of the criticism leveled against MOOCs is rather valid, while some of it is simply unfounded alarmist paranoia. Truthfully, I fall somewhere in the middle of the debate, that tricky balance between a business model that’s too heavily influenced by corporate profits and a social venture with a global mission of building a quality, accessible, and sustainable education model for the modern era. Like many, I have had a few false starts with MOOCs, and I’ve yet to complete one from beginning to end. So this is a test of my commitment to the MOOC model, I suppose. I read somewhere that if I publicly declare my goal then I’m far more likely to complete the goal. So, I am testing that theory, along with usefulness of MOOCs. I’ll keep you posted.

And for those of you living in and around NYC, Phil will be reading all over the city this week from Redeployment. After you listen to him read, buy his book, which is due out on March 4th. We can’t recommend his work enough, if only for the simple power of sentences like these: “So that’s your story, the story you wanted to tell me. Now what?”

Here we go.

  1. Speaking of social utility, a recent collection of essays, MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction, is stirring public debates around the usefulness of MFA programs generally, but perhaps more specifically this collection is offering, if for the first time, a truly complete lens into the life ­– and economics ­– of the modern working writer. Two of the essays I’ve read thus far – Alexander Chee and Emily Gould – have each, in their own ways, totally and completely blown me away. Both essays uniquely employ the author’s personal and financial struggles in order to highlight the many different reasons why writers choose to attend writing programs, poorly spend their book advances, or refuse to find regular jobs after it all falls apart.
  2. A local newspaper in Colorado Springs, Colorado, The Gazette, is running a powerful series on a rather complex issue facing some of America’s combat veterans who were discharged with an OTH, or other than honorable discharge. To be honest, as a veteran myself, I am not sure how I feel about this issue. But, if history has taught us anything, it’s that morally complicated social issues such as this require both nuanced thinking and a collective sense of responsibility to fix.
  3. The Boston Globe decided to run another poor example of reporters pushing an agenda on the sexiness of special operations and its (lack of) connection to elite athletes. According to the paper, Boston College’s Alex Amidon ‘may’ leave football for a Navy SEAL dream (the original story had him leaving, but was later amended to include this, ‘Clarification: BC associate athletics director said Amidon had not yet made a decision’). This is all rather silly to me, because there have been plenty of elite college athletes who have served in the military since 9/11, and some of them even served in first-tier units. For instance, my boat crew leader in BUD/S was the starting middle linebacker for San Diego State’s football team in the early 2000s, who never made a big deal of his football past or his direct from OCS to BUD/S path. He was a solid officer who treated me well, and was always willing to get wet and sandy with the rest of us mortals.
  4. From the Daily Beast, you can read Brian Castner’s exceptional review of Redeployment. After that, check out the ‘Books of the Times’ review in the New York Times, as well as the reviews in Men’s Journal and New York Magazine.
  5. The great Denis Johnson has new fiction in this week’s New Yorker. And for those of you unfamiliar with his work, his collection, Jesus’ Son, is one of the best story collections. Ever. Period. Full Stop.
  6. Thanks to the power of Twitter, Amtrak will be offering residencies to writers. After you figure out how to apply, you can read an essay in the Paris Review from Jessica Gross on writing on trains. And then re-read why some of us just want the world to be a little less loud, especially in the quiet car.
  7. Not sure how they did it, but warontherocks.com interviewed Chairman Dempsey on the profession of arms. I could listen to General Dempsey talk all day, which might have something to do with his graduate degree in literature from Duke. If you want more Dempsey, you can watch him on Charlie Rose. If you want more debate on the profession of arms, check out Adrian Bonenberger’s op-ed in the Washington Post and Maj. Matthew Cavanaugh’s post on warcouncil.org.

Have a great weekend.

–Brandon

Weekly Round-Up: Sochi Stress Dream Edition

Art by Dutch collective Antistrot

Art by Dutch collective Antistrot

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

I have a dream. It’s part of a cycle, exhausting and stupid. I’m sure everyone has their specifically tailored version, finely calibrated for maximum efficiency and angst. It’s not a nightmare, per se, but it tends to leave me more worn out when I wake up then I was way back when I tucked into bed. It’s a lucid bastard, porous, meaning it draws from my present reality, meaning if I wake up in the middle of it once I eventually, inevitably, submerge back into sleep my subconscious has incorporated the brief foray into reality, which somehow cranks the angst even higher. It’s also bottomless, meaning there’s no end, no death (yet), no point. In theory it could mirror my life all the way up to the present moment, making forays off the deep end now and again–it’s an alternate reality, an abstract biopic, not governed by logic or historical truths.

In the beginning of the dream–which doesn’t have sequels so much as constant reboots–I’m called back to one of many vulnerable moments in my past. Usually high school, sometimes college. Almost always academic. Here’s a representative episode: the sun is bright, the hallway floors buffed to a high shine. The year is almost up–movies and field days, frozen yogurt on the quad. Sometimes it’s that wheel-spinning gap after finals but before commencement. I’m cleaning out my locker or selling my books when I come across a heavy biology text still wrapped in plastic. I realize with a punch that I’ve forgotten all about my Life Science course’s lab component and now I’ve failed it and ruined my impending graduation, which all sorts of elderly relatives are traveling great distances to attend.

This draws me into a bureaucratic nightmare familiar to anyone forced to spend any time in a registrar’s office. I’m allowed “one last chance” which typically requires me to either 1) take a bizarre and demanding summer intensive or 2) re-do senior year all over again. Family, faculty and romantic interests are disappointed in me but I commit to a costly, time-consuming do-over. Of course the do-over year is a blur of pitfalls and tar traps, bleating police lights and tragic misunderstandings. It’s a drawn-out version of that reliable staple: reaching, reaching, without ever quite reaching the end.

Imagine the stress dreams of Olympians. They train for years, lifetimes, for a single moment. Parallels do exist between soldiers and athletes, even if the context and stakes are drastically different. Of course it’s unlikely that anybody prone to over thinking will win a medal in Sochi–they must be able to find some empty space during competition, a benefit of training and muscle memory–but they can’t be completely immune to the festering effects of disappointment. Plenty of time to nap in the off-season. Maybe too much time.

Below please find seven links relevant to our mission of bridging the soldier-civilian divide through literary programming. Support us HERE (all sorts of exciting projects we would love to launch given even slightly greater resources). Follow and “like” us. If nothing else, thanks for reading.

-Mike

1. The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman left me acutely aware of lost potential. That’s a selfish reaction, but one that has undeniably colored the grief surrounding his sad fate.

2. I found this Brooks Wheelan video to be inspiring. Here’s to camping on more scenic vistas in 2014.

3. SECRET Don DeLillo novel. How could I have missed this? More importantly, how can I get my hands on a copy without breaking the bank?

4. Excited about the announced partnership between Blacklist and Turner Networks. Furthermore, as streaming content continues to evolve and grow in popularity and the traditional gatekeepers fall away, there will be more opportunities for marginalized and non-traditional voices to tell their stories.

5. Why do we tend to portray writers as saints?

6. Phil Klay’s powerful op-ed in The New York Times. I can’t wait for Redeployment to drop. BONUS: Here’s Phil’s story “OIF” via Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading.

7. I’ve said this before (it’s been a long winter) BUT once the days get longer and warmer I WILL write an essay (or “post”) on that sadly inescapable aspect of the writing life: constant rejection. In the meantime here are TWO smart links via Brevity and The Airship.

Weekly Round-Up: Cabin Fever Edition

cabin fever

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

It’s winter and if most of us haven’t lived through a polar vortex yet, then one’s surely headed our way. As much time as I spend outdoors in all manner of weather conditions, I still seem to get cabin fever by February. Common side effects include thinking in feedback loops (ex. 6mins14secs into this TED talk), excessive reading, and deeply metaphysical conversations with dogs (recommended). But everything in moderation, right? Or not. There’s an allure to obsession and it’s not unusual for it to feel like a writer’s best friend. As author Jeff Vandermeer puts it:

What is obsession but curiosity and passion taken to an extreme?…Obsession is an essential part of creating an enduring work of art.

And with that, 5 links in the name of cabin fever, with full permission to get completely lost down the rabbit hole of any of these links. Who knows, you just might stumble across something to obsess about:

1. Sketching Guantanamo by Janet Hamlin with a forward by Carol Rosenberg: I’m already on my second go-round with this ground-breaking, only-one-of-its-kind in recent history book that includes sketches and commentary by the sole courtroom artist allowed to document the military trials at Guantanamo for the past eight years. The link will take you to an 18-page excerpt as a free download.

2. Ben Fountain on Aspen’s First Draft radio show: As a fellow civilian war-lit author, I found Ben’s interview relatable, precise, and insightful. Wise words about writing the “other” and the slow-slog of the writing life from the ground up. Plus, he’s got a wicked sense of humor.

3. Outside Magazine reports on Marines and elite adventure racers who showed higher activation in the insular cortex of the brain just moments before being subjected to “aversive stimulus” (ex. restricted airflow).

4. Marines also logged stellar performances in mental resilience in another study, this one funded by a $1.7 million four-year grant from the Department of Defense to study the impact of meditation practice incorporated into training.

5. Jeff Vandermeer, quoted above, has written a book about writing that I can’t recommend enough. Genre fiction skeptics (and I used to be one) be damned, Wonderbook is for every writer and teacher of any kind of writing. Not your average how-to nor your schmarmy beat-the-block approach—this book stretches the limits of imagination in ways sometimes dark, other times corny, and always original. More importantly, it challenges parts of the creative writing canon with highly compelling, innovative alternatives. Vandermeer put it best when he wrote of the writing life, “So the question is: How can you position yourself to dream well?” And dream we do…

Stay warm out there.

Katey Schultz, Flashes of War

Bonus Links:

6. In Salon this week, you can read an excerpt from Kayla Williams’ upcoming memoir, Plenty of Time When We Get Home: Love and Recovery in the Aftermath of WarShe writes movingly about her family’s struggle to care for her husband, who was severely wounded in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq.

7. In the The Daily Beast, our good friend Brian Castner reviews the memoir, Afghan Post, by our other good friend, Adrian Bonenberger.

 

Wife and War: The Memoir

silver dollar

 

Words After War is pleased to present an excerpt from Wife and War: The Memoir by Amalie Flynn.

December 2006

We rent out our house in Maine. And I rent a condo in New Jersey, so I can be near my parents. And my husband moves us in, before he leaves, leaves for Afghanistan.

And I am upstairs and I come around this corner and I look down and I see him, my husband, standing at the bottom of the stairs, holding him, our sleeping son, ready to transfer him, from the car outside, to his bed upstairs. Our son, a two year old boy, whose only job, now, is to forget his father.

And I will never forget this.

I will never forget how my husband is holding him and cradling him. His hands underneath his tiny back and bent knees. Like an offering, I think, the offering he never wanted to make.

How my husband does not look up, does not see me watching. He just stands there, at the bottom of the stairs, holding him, his son, and sobbing. My husband is sobbing.

And it is in this moment, this moment, when I remember, because I had forgotten.

I had forgotten that he is the one who has to go.

Before he leaves, my husband talks about it. He talks about dying, about where I should live, about who will help me, and how I will get the life insurance money. My husband makes plans for me, postmortem plans.

And I have to accept it.

I have to accept that he may die.

January 2007

We lie in our bed together, lean against our kitchen counter together, and, now, we are standing together, here, in a parking lot, with the military barracks behind it, and a government issued bag at our feet.

Here, at boot camp, where my husband, who is an Officer in the Navy, will train to be an Army soldier, train to kill, train to be ready to go. And, then, he will go, go on a plane, and go to country where news stories are made.

Because there are not enough of them, not enough Army soldiers, he will go. Because there is no draft, he will go.

My husband will serve for the Army, on an Embedded Training Team, embedded in the heart of Afghanistan, working at a college in Kabul, and training Afghan soldiers.

And he says, I won’t be gone forever.

And I say, promise.

I want him to promise, my husband, promise, not because it is possible, to make this kind of promise, but because it isn’t. And because, this is what you do, what you do when your husband goes to war.

This is the moment we have to say goodbye.

Goodbye, goodbye for fifteen months.

And our son is only two years old, sitting in a car seat, in the backseat, in the car. And my husband is leaning over him, leaning in the car door, trying to give him a special coin, a silver dollar. And our son will not take it, putting his little hands, behind his back, no and no.

It is as if he knows, as if he knows what it means.

How I will take it, the silver dollar, take it home, and put it in a box, on a high shelf, in my closet.

Because if my husband dies, his father, if he dies in this war, it will be the last thing he ever gave him.

My husband is gone.

I walk around this condo, up stairs, through rooms, down a hallway. I check the front door and the back door. Turning locks, twisting knobs, saying out loud, to the darkness, and to no one, just to be sure. I watch my son sleep, his small chest rising and then falling, before I fall too, into our bed, but on my side, still.

There is a shirt stretched across his side of the bed, a shirt that my husband left behind, or maybe, just forgot, with a sleeve, one arm, hanging off the bed.

My husband will be gone for fifteen months.

This is the first night.

Weekly Round-Up: Pink Mist Edition

Pink Mist

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

Please join us tonight, 2.1.14, at Hill & Dale bar for another installment of our Danger Close Reading Series – Danger Close: Pink Mist. Tonight we will feature our fist international writer, Owen Sheers, a Welsh poet, author and scriptwriter. Owen has published two poetry collections, one of which won a Somerset Maugham Award. His debut prose work, The Dust Diaries, was the 2005 Welsh Book of the Year. His first novel, Resistance, has been translated into ten languages. Pink Mist was commissioned by BBC Radio 4 and published by Faber in June 2013. In 2012, Owen was the Artist in Residence for the Welsh Rugby Union. We’re excited to bring this interesting and talented voice to our NYC supporters. See you there!

Here we go.

  1. An economics professor at Princeton takes on the moral hazard of an all-volunteer military in the New York Times.
  2. Check out this interview in The Awl with Adam Klein, the editor of an exciting new collection The Gifts of the State and Other Stories: New Writing from Afghanistan
  3. Elliot Ackerman wrote a smart review in the Daily Beast of the new novel, Carthage, from the insanely prolific author Joyce Carol Oates.
  4. The BBC gets into the weeds with a wonky look at the mammoth task for the military as they prepare to exit Afghanistan.
  5. A beautiful story from NPR of a soldier receiving a Silver Star for valor 30 years after a fire fight during the Cold War.
  6. The New York Times has a story on how some writers are now monetizing their appearances by charging fees to appear at their own books clubs.
  7. David Remnick has penned an in-depth and revealing article for the New Yorker on the Obama Presidency and the limitations of executive power.

Enjoy the weekend.

–Brandon

 

Weekly Round-Up: Technology Edition

ipad

Don’t be this person.

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

There has always been a tension between those who see technology as progress and those who see it as a threat. After decades of rapid technological advancement, we can easily argue that our soldiers are now far more capable and our information is far more readily available than ever before. And yet, paradoxically, with such increased access to information the core of culture – art, literature, classical music – has been overshadowed by, or even forgotten because of, modern machinery and advanced technology. 

Often, I wonder how I ever lived without my modern tech devices, but I also wonder if these things are actually doing anything to improve my life, or the lives of others. Rather than experience the world for what it is, many of us attempt to document each second of it on our four-inch screens.

In honor of this fundamental tension between technological progress and a desire to preserve the good ole’ days, I present the following links from the week.

Here we go.

  1. I bet he didnt have an iPhone. A Japanese army officer who hid in the jungles of the Philippines fighting World War II until 1974 has died at the age of 91.
  2. Advance! In an article for Foreign Policy, Peter Singer and Allan Friedman compare the logic of a first-strike advantage in cyber war to the misguided belief in offensive advantage prior to World War I.
  3. You wont believe what happens next. What if classic book titles were rewritten to be like Upworthy headlines and optimized to get the most clicks?
  4. Advance? The Awl wonders when machines will really be able to predict bestsellers.
  5. Speaking of machines. Facing tighter budget constraints, the Army is considering replacing thousands of soldiers with robots.
  6. But war is still human. Marine Corps veteran Eliot Ackerman’s fascinating piece in The Daily Beast about his lunch with a jihadi fighter in a Syrian refugee camp.
  7. And hard to let go. A New York Times article looks at how the Army is adapting to garrison life as the war in Afghanistan continues to draw down.

Have a great weekend.

–David