A new group meeting at Methodist University is encouraging members of the local military community to tell their stories through the written word, hopefully to give voice to unshared experiences while empowering and transforming the storytellers.
The Veterans Writing Collective is open to active-duty military, vet-erans and family members. The group will have its first meeting on Saturday, Jan. 12, from 2 to 4 p.m. in Trustees Building Room 340 on the Methodist campus.
The mission of the collective, which will meet monthly, is to encour-age the art of writing and provide an environment where participants offer honest, positive feedback on members’ writing. The group is free and open to writers of all genres. At the first meeting and every third meeting, the group will also host a credentialed writer for special pre-sentations on technical aspects of writing. Regular times and dates will be set after the first meeting.
“The focus is on writing,” said English and writing professor Robin Greene, who is advising the group. “Our group meetings will be con-ducted as workshops, which means that writers will gather to share their work, receive supportive feedback and learn about craft.”
Greene said there is a need for such groups as the military continues a lengthy stretch of overseas campaigns and deployment cycles. Also, family members and veterans with older experiences are now telling their stories.
An unlikely organizer — Greene is not a veteran — she was con-tacted by several organizations over the summer who wanted something like this in the Fayetteville community: a group for military-related writing where they could be free to tell stories that might otherwise shock or offend people without similar experiences.
“Our goal is to honor veterans and encourage them to tap into their creativity as they offer unique glimpses into their experiences,” Greene said. “Even family mem-bers have the opportunity to write creatively about their experiences. Frequently, in the cry for service stories, we neglect their stories.”
Whether fictionalized accounts, poetry or personal stories, Greene believes writing helps process difficult memories and emotions, empowering and transforming the writer with critical distance to deal with the material.
“Too often, stories are lost because we don’t give ourselves permission to speak our truth,” Greene said. “And traditionally, the military has trained men and women to be stoic — which is often interpreted as a mandate to be silent. But that’s no longer the case. Throughout America, and here in our hometown, the voices of our warriors and their family members are finding outlets to be heard.”
As Greene was fielding inquisitive phone calls, one of her students, Paul Stroebel, was researching literature about war. Stroebel, a senior writing major and U.S. Army veteran, found writing to be empowering and cathartic, and hopes other veterans will, too. He will facilitate the group’s meetings.
“I hope to work with the members as we all learn to refine our writing,” Stroebel said. “We have a common experience in the U.S. military, and that experience informs our lives and our writing. As we learn to use that experience as a lens through which we see our work, we grow as writers.”
The new group already has attention and support from established local writers, like Appalachian State University Professor and North Carolina’s Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti, also an organizer. When he took the post in September, Bathanti announced he wanted to work with veterans to share their stories through poetry. He hopes these workshops will be duplicated across the state.
“I’m interested in working with the Fayetteville group precisely because of their location and because what they are doing dovetails so nicely into my mission as Poet Laureate,” Bathanti said. “I’m hoping also to lead workshops for the group this spring in Fayetteville.”
Greene said the group plans to post members’ works on its website, methodist.edu/writingvets. In the future, the group may also hold pub-lic readings of their work on campus or at other locations.
For more information, contact Greene at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Veterans are invited to join The Veteran’s Writing Collective at Methodist University.