Veterans to share emotional, complex accounts in nonfiction reading event

Since 2010, the Syracuse Veterans’ Writing Group has both met on a monthly basis and presented its members’ work in public contexts: in conferences, in readings at the ArtRage Gallery and other venues, and in a 2017 anthology published by Parlor Press.

On Thursday, Nov. 8, the group’s members will read their work at the Goldstein Alumni and Faculty Center, 401 University Ave., on the Syracuse University campus.

The event, titled “Returning from Conflict: Nonfiction Readings by the Syracuse Veterans’ Writing Group,” is part of the SU Symposium series for 2018-2019. There’s a reception starting at 5 p.m. and readings from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The public is welcome, and there’s no entry fee.

Bill Cross, a group participant, notes that the monthly meetings, which currently attract an average of 15 people, are open to veterans as well as their children, siblings and significant others. A typical meeting starts with a half-hour of meditation and a brief go-round and moves on to a pre-writing exercise, a series of prompts from facilitators Ivy Kleinbart and Eileen Schell. Then there’s time set aside for writing, for reading one’s work and feedback. The format is based on voluntary decision-making; no one is required to meditate or to read a piece of writing.

The meetings, Cross emphasized, provide a secure, comfortable space where there’s a sense of belonging to a group, a climate of mutual respect, and acceptance of various perspectives on military life. The group’s writers, who served in Korea and Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, have written diverse accounts of their experiences.

“Some of the writing is humorous, and some of it is deeply emotional,“ said Cross, who served in the U.S. Army. He noted the Nov. 8 readings will focus on coming home. That’s not merely a physical journey but a complex set of experiences: leaving the military, becoming a civilian, considering the impact on one’s self, family and friends. Most of all, it’s about dealing with memories, some of them traumatic.

That’s very much in keeping with the tone of the group’s anthology, The Weight of My Armor: Creative Nonfiction and Poetry by the Syracuse Veterans’ Writing Group, which was edited by Kleinbart, Schell and Peter McShane, a group writer.

The book is anecdotal, as seen in Lee Savidge’s essay, “Air Force Brats Conquer Alaska,” which deals with his family moving to Alaska after his father is assigned to Eielson Air Force Base. It’s also sardonic in Tim Hansen’s “Fearless Leader” with its discussion of military bureaucracy, and poignant in “My Father” by Marissa Mims and “February 7” by Robert Marcuson.

Mims talks about how her father was drafted into the Army, served in Vietnam and struggled with alcoholism. Marcuson first writes of the deaths of 11 members of his infantry company on a single day of combat in Vietnam and the death seven months later of his friend Danny McKechnie. Then he discusses competing narratives of war.

For information about the Syracuse Veterans’ Writing Group, call (315) 443-1083.

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