The Veteran’s Pen: Writing and Reflecting

Post-war stories are part of our national lexicon. In the last decade, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created a new generation of veterans with unique narratives to share. The War Writers’ Campaign and Words After War are two organizations now emerging as lightening rods for these voices, encouraging an openness of reflection that will not only forge a new shelf in our literary canon, but also reinforce a strong and lasting dialogue between veterans and civilians. Let’s take a deeper look at both and then hear from their founders on literature’s role in shaping history.

The War Writers’ Campaign: It’s an age-old truth that literature can be an agent, or catalyst, for social change. At The War Writers’ Campaign, veterans’ works will act as a clarion call, spotlighting issues only recently gaining national attention, like the challenges of PTSD, the unfathomable rise in suicides and the everyday issues of transitioning back home. In doing so, the creative outlet of writing will raise awareness as well as foster healing. Co-founded by Ryan Weemer and Derek Porter, both former Marines who served in Iraq, The War Writers’ Campaign also intends to pioneer veteran publishing, creating an innovative system of literary works that will not only inform national conversation and reflection, but also help fund programs that will serve our veterans. For more information, visit their website or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Words After War: Co-founded by Brandon Willitts, a Navy veteran of Afghanistan, and Michael McGrath, a writer and editor, Words After War aims to “build a community of thoughtful, engaged and skilled veteran writers,” according to its website. To encourage veterans and their families to share and reflect on their stories, Words After War is developing an impressive toolkit of opportunities—including writing workshops, mentoring programs, studio retreats and author residencies—that will create a community of support and artistic development. This exciting work begins next month, with writing workshops led by Fire & Forget author Matt Gallagher opening in New York. To learn more about Words After War, visit their website or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

The War Writers’ Campaign and Words After War are also partners in providing creative writing support and programming.

Finally, eager to hear their thoughts on literature and history, I asked the founders, via email:

What effect can literary works have in shaping the legacy of this new generation of veterans?

Ryan Weemer, The War Writers’ Campaign: One of my favorite quotes and sentiments comes from the author and former Marine, Bing West. In his book No True Glory, he concludes by writing, “Unsung, the noblest deed dies.”  And it is in this way that I feel that the power of telling our stories is more important than we can fathom, because unsung, the issues and struggles, triumphs and successes all die with the wars that proceed them…It is imperative that we tell our stories so that there is no cultural divide between those who served and those who did not. We can shift our understanding of it all in this way while educating, uplifting, and empowering ourselves and our community… It’s up to us to leave the world with what we’ve done, and up to us to shape the discussions and tell the stories of our noblest deeds.

Brandon Willitts, Words After War: As a veteran, for me, to write is to reject apathy and silence. When we learn the necessary skills to tell our own stories, we are empowered to take control of the narrative. It’s up to us to convey the emotions, stresses and hardships that exist within our community; conversely, it’s also on us to convey the importance of the brotherhood, honor and love that exist within our community. Literature gives us a thoughtful audience of supporters who will try to understand who we are, where we have been, and what we have gone through.

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