Magazine article American Libraries

Helping Warriors Unleash the Power of the Pen: A Library Writing Workshop Helps Veterans Share Their Experiences

Magazine article American Libraries

Helping Warriors Unleash the Power of the Pen: A Library Writing Workshop Helps Veterans Share Their Experiences

Article excerpt

The best pleasures in life are often unexpected, and we have been t! lucky enouqh to be ambushed by a proqram that has become one of the most extraordinarily rewarding experiehces of our careers. The Sylvania branch of the Toledo-Lucas County(OHio) Public Library and Lourdes College of Sylvania cosponsored the veterans's Writinq Workshop, which began in the fall of 2010

Together we crafted a variety of thought-provoking writing and reading exercises intended to encourage all veterans, active and retired, to write about their experiences for their own benefit or to share them with friends and family.

The strategy

We, the authors, brought a valuable combination of skills to the program. Holly, a professor of English at Lourdes, has 20 years of experience teaching rhetoric to students of all skill levels, while Amy harbors a deep interest in histoiy and memoirs from her 15 years of maintaining the Histoiy and Biography collection at the Main Library.

Still, it took a great deal of discussion to figure out what kind of program structure to develop. We hoped to avoid intimidating veterans who didn't have much writingpractice, yet keep the sessions challenging enough to encourage those who already had some writing experience. We finally settled on a workshop format with a two-hour program each Monday evening for six weeks to provide the greatest flexibility for responding to what would likely be a variety of backgrounds. Each week's activities were based on a theme that would work regardless of the writer's abilities: writing about a place (week 1), writing about an event (week 2), using humor in writing (week 3), writing about a memorable person (week 4), writing about yourself (week 5), and weaving a sense of reflection into writing (week 6).

Amy dug through war memoirs and photocopied examples of each concept to show how professional writers like Michael Herr, Sebastian Junger, Stephen Ambrose, and Philip Caputo handled them. She also included interviews with people in a variety of war-related roles, collected by Studs Terkel and Christian Appy, to add an even more vivid sense of reality and to demonstrate how less-polished passages could still be effective. Holly created dynamic writing exercises centering on issues appropriate for veterans and effective for their writing in particular. Subjects included organization (how to tell the story to create the strongest impact), audience (how honest to be, dependingonthe intended reader--children and grandchildren vs. buddies, for example), and use of description and metaphor (how to make your writing different from other pieces on similar topics).

We beganeachsessionwithahomeworkreview, critiquing as a group a few pieces sent to us in advance. Then we moved into our theme for the week with Holly's writing lesson, which sometimes included in-class writing activities. Amy then passed out articles, and we discussed the authors' use of the technique under discussion. For example, Holly explained how to write dialogue, and Amy shared examples and led a discussion about it. We took a break (with cookies), and the vets enjoyed informally talking with one another. We had many lively discussions on such topics as PTSD, coming home, and identifying enemies, real and imagined. We wrapped up with a home work assignment for the following week's class.

As with all newly formulated programs, we worried whether we'd see much of a response, especially since we were unsure of the best way to reach vets of all ages and backgrounds. The library's marketing department disseminated the information to local newspapers via press releases and a prominently featured push on the library's website. Amy sent fliers to the local VFWposts, talked to a friend active in the Vietnam Veterans of America, and gave information to the local Rotary organization. Holly hung flyers around the Lourdes campus, and College Relations posted the information to the college website. …

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