06 June 2018

Notes from a Civil-Military Writing Conference

Duluth-based author and U.S. Air Force veteran Eric Chandler signs a book after a Q&A discussion at the Spirit of the North Theater, Duluth, Minn., June 2.  The free public event was part of a weekend "Bridging the Gap" workshop for military veterans, families, and others who are exploring military topics and themes in their writing. Photo by Andria Williams.
Waves crashed against black rocks on a cold and blustery weekend in Duluth, Minn., while a small group of military writers remained cozy and dry in the Fitger's Brewery complex, located along the Lake Superior shore. More than 12 military family and veterans from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa participated in a 2-day workshop last weekend, June 2-3, 2018, exchanging ideas and insights on how to explore stories of change and resilience.

The "Bridging the Gap" workshop was made possible through a grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, thanks to legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund. Organizer Eric Chander, a Duluth-based author, commercial pilot, and U.S. Air Force veteran, says the inspiration for the event came from a 2016 query from colleagues at Lake Superior Writers.

"There are various regional efforts that regularly bring writers of memoir, poetry, and fiction together," Chandler says. "Given that we've been nearly two decades at war, why wouldn't there be a resource to help people document and discuss military themes?"

Participants included women and men who are veterans of the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army, and Marines, as well as those who have had friends, family, and co-workers in uniformed service. One woman had previously served in a U.S. Navy Amphibious Construction Battalion—the "Seabees." Another participant described carving time for writing despite taking care of her five children, while the family awaits the return of her husband, who is currently deployed with a Duluth-based Air National Guard unit. Yet another woman veteran told stories of working as a maintainer on U.S. Air Force F-4 "Phantom II" fighters and B-1 "Lancer" bombers.

In short, the stories told were far from the testosterone- and adrenalin-fueled military stereotypes that are so often depicted in popular media. One writer noted she was specifically motivated by the "bridging the gap" theme, not only in terms of civil-military frameworks, but in bringing together other communities, audiences, and "tribes."

In contrast to the foggy and rainy weather outside, the workshop environment was quietly electric. Throughout the weekend, the group took full advantage of the Fitger's Brewery complex—a space that includes conference, hotel, catering, performance, and boutique shopping. Breakfasts and lunches were catered on-site, and discussions of writing and publishing techniques weaved seamlessly between formal classes and lunchtime conversations. Experiences of those present ranged from those who were just starting to explore writing—or who were interested in learning about new forms of writing—to those who were already seeking publication in journals, anthologies, and other venues.

In a free public event conducted in Fitger's Spirit of the North Theatre on Saturday evening, June 2, four authors of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry read selections from their works, and engaged audience questions about bridging gaps in empathy and understanding that seem to occur between civil and military communities.

Featured were authors Mary L. Doyle ("The Master Sergeant Lauren Harper" mystery series and others) and Andria Williams ("The Longest Night"), as well as workshop instructors David Chrisinger ("See Me for Who I Am") and Randy Brown ("Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire.")

"I've seen all sorts of workshop models—everything from 1-day one-shots, to weekly or monthly meetings, to 5-day national conferences," says Brown. "I can honestly say that the inaugural 'Bridging the Gap' event hit a sweet spot—it provided real 'bang for the buck,' with a lot of information and networking in a short period of time. I saw even seasoned practitioners walk away with new tools to try out, and new writers who were charged up and empowered to get started on their own stories. I'd do it again in a heartbeat!"

01 May 2018

Red Bull Poet Finalist in 2018 Darron L. Wright Awards

Randy Brown, author of the 2015 collection "Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire," was recently named a poetry finalist in the 2018 Col. Darron L. Wright awards. The award recognizes a new poem that unpacks the phrase "God willing," which is found in multiple languages.

Brown's poem, "Inshallah MaƱana," explores the connections of language, as heard with the ears of a citizen-soldier. The soldier first encounters the phrase for "God willing" in his first year of junior high school Spanish, and again in Afghanistan. The phrase is a common one, used in both religious and secular contexts. The poem also mentions a deployment anecdote from "Saber2th," a member of the Iowa Army National Guard's 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment.

You can read Brown's poem in its entirety here.

Administered by the Chicago-based on-line literary journal "Line of Advance," and underwritten by the Blake and Bailey Foundation, the awards commemorate a U.S. Army leader who was killed in a September 2013 parachute training accident.

Other poetry recognized in this year's Wright awards included:
Prose recognitions included:
The annual poetry and prose contest is limited to U.S. military veterans, and named in memory of Col. Darron L. Wright. In addition to other assignments, Wright served as battalion operations officer for 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo., with whom he deployed to Iraq from 2003 to 2004. Wright was next assigned as brigade executive officer with 4th Brigade, 4th Inf. Div., Fort Hood, Texas, with whom he deployed to Iraq from 2005 to 2006. He commanded the 1st Battalion, 509th Parachute Inf. Reg. at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La. in 2007. From 2009 to 2013, Wright was assigned as deputy brigade commander for the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Inf. Div., with whom he deployed to Iraq from 2009 to 2010.

A graduate of the U.S. Naval War College, Wright authored "Iraq Full Circle: From Shock and Awe to the Last Combat Patrol in Baghdad and Beyond." in 2012.

Wright's full biography appears here.

"Darron L. Wright was a larger than life Soldier’s Soldier. He was a physically imposing, direct, and skilled warrior," the Line of Advance editors wrote when the award was first launched.
He was also witty, hilarious, generous, kind, and wholly consumed with love for his family. He will certainly be missed but he will never be forgotten. His intellectual curiosity, boundless optimism, and untiring work ethic, allowed him to reach heights he could only dream of as a young boy growing up in Mesquite, Texas. It is in this spirit that the Darron L. Wright Award was created, to inspire fellow military writers and poets to aspire to become better and more accomplished at their craft and at telling their story.

19 April 2018

Iowa Review's Writing Contest for Vets Opens May 1

Jeff Sharlet during service in Vietnam
The submissions window for a fourth Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award for Veterans writing contest opens Tues., May 1, 2018 and closes June 1, 2018. The contest is open to any service member or veteran writing in any genre, about any subject matter. (Current students, faculty, or staff of the University of Iowa, however, are not eligible to enter the contest.)

The contest is hosted by The Iowa Review and made possible by the family of Jeff Sharlet (1942–1969), a Vietnam veteran and anti-war writer and activist.

Unlike the first two iterations of the contest, there is no entry fee for the contest.

Prize is $1,000 and publication in The Iowa Review. Second place is $750. Up to three runners-up will receive $500 each.

Entrants should submit an original double-spaced manuscript in any genre (poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction) of up to 20 pages. Simultaneous submissions are acceptable, although the editors request timely notification if the work is later accepted elsewhere.

Submissions may be made either on-line or via postal mail.

A webpage with full details and specifications for the Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award for Veterans can be found here. A Submittable page for on-line submissions is here.

Historically, this is an extremely competitive contest. The Aiming Circle strongly recommends that potential participants review examples of works previously recognized through this contest. Materials from previous iterations of the Jeff Sharlet Memorial contest have been collected on-line here. Or read the previous issues containing Jeff Sharlet contest awardees:
Finalists will be selected by the editors of The Iowa Review. A winner will be selected by the guest judge. This year's judge is poet and memoirist Brian Turner, author of "Here, Bullet" and "My Life as a Foreign Country." Individuals with past personal or professional relationship with the judge are not eligible for the contest.

A Facebook page for The Iowa Review is here.