10 May 2017

Is Midwestern Military Writing Officially a Thing?

Whether you call it "war writing," or "military writing," or "writing about military experience," the literary terrain of the American Middle West is an increasingly fertile frontier in which to grow civil-military discourse.

Although I was born on the West Coast into an active-duty Air Force family, I claim Iowa as a home state. I graduated from high school here. I'm raising a family here. In journalism jargon, I'm a bit of a booster. I write poetry and edit books about Midwesterners in the military. I've even, with a little help from friends and colleagues, presented a panel discussion in Washington, D.C. about how "flyover country" responds to war. Unnumbered Sherpatude: "In writing about war, everyone grinds their own axe." Mine is the American Middle West, and how good people who serve our country are often overlooked by cultural and political power centers.

There are many, many different ways to describe and conscribe the Middle West as a region. If you want to start a quasi-religious debate, just ask what states other people include in "Midwest." My personal blend includes all the area between the Ohio and Missouri Rivers, and even the southern states whose territories were acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. I further note with pride that, of the many conflicting maps that are available of the Midwest, the inclusion of Iowa is never questioned.

Still, the old journalist in me adheres to the even-older rule: A single example could just be wishful thinking. Two examples could be coincidence. Three examples, however, equals a trend.

I am writing today to declare that Midwestern military writing is officially a thing.

Example No. 1: Now in its sixth cycle of production, the "Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors" series from Southeast Missouri State University Press, with the support of the Missouri Humanities Council, is the established flagship anthology of military writing. While there have been and will be other anthology projects, none has yet achieved the consistent quality and quantity of the "Proud to Be" series.

(There's still time to submit fiction, non-fiction, poetry, photography, and more before the "Proud to Be, Vol. 6" deadline of June 1, 2017. Click here for details.)

Example No. 2: The Chicago-based on-line literary journal Line of Advance recently announced the results of its 2nd Annual Darron L. Wright military writing award. Underwritten by the Blake and Bailey Foundation, the contest serves as a living memorial for a fallen soldier, by incubating fresh words and stories on war.

Example No. 3: The Deadly Writers Patrol, headquartered in Madison, Wis. has successfully evolved from a community of Vietnam War-era writers into an engaged, inclusive community that stretches to 21st century veterans. The group has published 11 editions of its print journal since 2006. With its just-released issue No. 12, the annual publication will increase production frequency to twice a year. There is also a new website design, and submissions to the publications are now made via Submittable.

(Order the latest Deadly Writers Patrol issue here!)

There are other, supporting indicators of a growing population and presence of military-writing voices from the Midwest. In 2015, the second Military Experience & the Arts Symposium was hosted in Lawton, Okla. Based at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, David Chrisinger ("See Me for Who I Am") incorporates writing workshops in his programming efforts both on campus and via non-profits such as Team RWB and The War Horse.

And, because some literary critics focus solely on book-length work and nothing else, there are palletsful of Midwestern war books. Matthew Hefti's "Hard and Heavy Thing" has its heart in Wisconsin. Susanne Aspley's "Granola, MN" is full of the quirky humor of the region. Journalist Whitney Terrell, based in Kansas City, Mo., gave us "The Good Lieutenant." And genre-jumper M.L. Doyle, who grew up in Minnesota, has delivered a number of titles—mystery, urban fantasy, and more—each infused with war themes.

Memoirist Anglea Ricketts ("No Man's War") speaks with plain-spoken insight and humor of Indiana, while Iraq War veteran Kayla Williams ("Love My Rifle More than You" and "Plenty of Time When We Get Home") and does the same from her Ohio origins. And, while Andria Williams set her first novel "The Longest Night") in Idaho for historical reasons, I'd argue the work illuminates and radiates a particular familiarity with the archetypical Midwesterner's emotional landscape. She got her MFA in creative writing at the University of Minnesota, you know.

Finally, writer Roy Scranton ("War Porn") is now faculty at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind. He grew up in Oregon, but, like many people, perhaps he's decided the Middle West is as good a place as any to wait out the Anthropocene.

The bottom line, for right now? Midwestern military writing is a thing. And, with all this Midwestern sense and sensibility brought to bear, I'm certain that we'll soon have this whole Forever War thing figured out in a jiffy. You'll find that we're full of practical, polite solutions and highly accomplished at barely suppressing timeless reservoirs of rage and aspiration. We have been since "The Great Gatsby."

In the meantime, please enjoy this pending new Sherpatude: "War may be hell, but we'll bring hotdish."


Full disclosure: The writer of the Red Bull Rising blog was a poetry finalist in this year's Darron L. Wright writing awards, administered by Line of Advance. He been previously published in the Deadly Writers Patrol journal, and in the "Proud to Be" anthology series.

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