Author James Mathews to encourage troops and veterans to share their wartime experiences

Who better to tell the story of the armed forces than the U.S. troops and veterans who have served? That’s the idea behind a free, six-week prose-writing workshop for active duty troops, veterans, and their dependents hosted by The Writer’s Center from April 6 – May 18. The workshops are part of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, a groundbreaking program that documents and preserves the wartime experiences of men and women in uniform and their families. In this latest phase of the program, Operation Homecoming will hold writing workshops for veterans as well as active duty troops at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers, military hospitals, and affiliated centers in communities around the country. Operation Homecoming is conducted in partnership with the Department of Defense, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Operation Homecoming is made possible by The Boeing Company.

Guest instructor James Mathews, a longtime member of The Writer’s Center, will teach the workshops. Mathews has been deployed overseas a number of times, including two stints in the Middle East and Iraq. And those experiences he explores through his own prizewinning fiction. For Mathews, the opportunity to lead this workshop is a chance to do something for the military community of which he has long played an active role. “I think there are feelings and issues that can best be conveyed by veterans who have been there, done that,” he says.

The workshop will focus primarily on the elements of fiction as a way of conveying this experience, but non-fiction writing is also welcome. Mathews says: “We will explore ways to approach the subject, variations on re-emerging literary themes, and how to make one’s own stories ring beyond the personal and particular and reflect a wider emotional range. Topics of interest will include plot, structure, story and character development through action and dialogue, uses of language, and the infusion of tension and conflict, in particular as these elements relate to military themes and settings.”

To help workshop participants give voice to their experiences, each will receive an Operation Homecoming writer’s guide with samples of wartime writing by veterans and civilians along with a CD of audio recordings of war literature from the Civil War to the Vietnam War. Each participant also will receive a copy of the documentary film Muse of Fire, which chronicles the Operation Homecoming writing process with participants and their writing instructors. Workshop host sites will receive copies of the anthology Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families (Random House, 2006/University of Chicago Press, 2008) for use as reference materials during the workshops. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own writings to the workshops.

Since 2004, the NEA Operation Homecoming writing program has collected the stories of U.S. military personnel and their families. With support from The Boeing Company, Operation Homecoming has brought more than 60 writing workshops to troops at more than 30 domestic and overseas military installations from Camp Pendleton in California to USS Carl Vinson in the Persian Gulf and Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. Among the original workshop teachers are distinguished writers Tobias WolffJeff ShaaraMarilyn Nelson, Richard BauschBobbie Ann MasonJoe HaldemanRichard Currey, Mark Bowden, and E. Ethelbert Miller.

What: Operation Homecoming Writing Workshop

When: April 6-May 18, 2009 (6 sessions); 7:00-9:30 (no meeting April 20)

Where: The Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815

Workshop leader: James Mathews, Iraq War veteran and Katherine Anne Porter Prize-winning author of the collection Last Known Position.

Who: The workshop is designed for armed service members currently serving in the military, military veterans, and dependents of military service men and women (veterans or active duty). The workshop will benefit active duty and reservist service-members, as well as veterans, who currently reside in the Bethesda area.

Registration: This workshop is limited to 16 participants who will be selected on a first come, first served basis.

Interested individuals can register by calling The Writer’s Center at 301.654.8664. We encourage anyone with questions about the workshop to contact us.