Soldier / Veteran Writers and Their Projects

Soldiers have long been writing about their experiences of combat and about returning home as a changed individual. Their testimonies and imaginations offer resilient observations about war, peace, history, society, and memory. Soldiers and veterans provide crucial commentary not only about their day and age, but also about the nature of humanity and the complexities of life and death. Perhaps most importantly, their writing is transformative and even cathartic to them on a personal level, as a way of putting the pieces together.

The following articles highlight the benefits of writing, for soldiers and veterans. You’ll find general reflections about writing as a tool for survival and healing. You’ll also discover some noteworthy projects undertaken by soldier/veteran writers, including some of the writers from the compendium of Soldier and Veteran Writers — Past and Ongoing Wars, featured individually below with links to their interviews and reviews.

R E F L E C T I O N S    O N    W R I T I N G   I N   W A R   &   P E A C E

Anthony Swofford, center, the author of “Jarhead,” leads a workshop at Western Connecticut State

To Mailer, A Good Soldier Puts War on PaperUSA Today, Bob Minzesheimer, 2003.4.10

War Writing Helps Soldiers Survive, CBS News, Caitlin A. Johnson, 2007.4.15

For Veterans Back From War, Writing Proves to Be a Balm, New York Times, Wendy Carlson, 2009.4.8

Veterans Turning to Poetry To Heal Their War WoundsStars and Stripes, David Allen, 2009.12.21

Workshopping the Next Generation of American War Literature, Virginia Quarterly Review, Michael Davis Lukas, Spring 2010

For Some Of Us, It’s Personal: Interview with George Kovach, Editor of Consequence, The Review Review, Jeremy Hauck Consequence is an independent literary magazine focusing on the culture and consequences of war  Kovach is a poet and combat vet from the war in Viet Nam

W A R / P E A C E   W R I T I N G   P R O J E C T S

Underground GI newspaper, ‘Last Harass,’ from May 1971

Sir! No Sir!, a documentary film which puts into context the proliferation of underground GI presses during the American War in Viet Nam, directed and written by David Zeiger, 2005

Inside A Veterans’ Group: Writing About War and Peace, Shepherd Bliss, 2006.8.5

Maxine Hong Kingston, Bill Moyers Journal, 2007.5.25

Maxine Hong Kingston (front and center) with her veterans writing group in Sebastopol, CA, in March 2006, just before their release of ‘Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace’ (Koa Books)

Veterans Group, Maxine Hong Kingston together use writing to heal: For 15 years, group has explored personal voices of war, SFGate, Justin Berton, 2008.1.7

Writing Project Helps Veterans Heal Wounds, NPR Weekend Edition, John McChesney, 2008.1.27

Vet Art Project: Understanding Through Art, 2009

Combat Paper Project, where veterans use their uniforms worn in combat to create cathartic works of art

Shredding War’s Dark Memories: Iraq War Veterans Release Their Angst By Turning Their Uniforms into Paper, Christian Science Monitor, Stacy Teicher Khadaroo, 2009.10.5

How to Build Your Own Veteran Writers Group, Maxine Hong Kingston, 2011

The Veterans Writing Project [State of Nevada], KNPR Nevada Public Radio, 2011.1.18

Veterans Writers Project asks veterans to write about experiences, Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Alyssa Creamer, 2011.4.21

In The Mind Field: News and Commentary from Veteran Writer-Activists, created by five members of Veterans for Peace

Warrior Writers Project, bringing together recent veterans and current service members to be in creative community and to use art to express themselves

Combat Paper Project, utilizing art making workshops to assist veterans in reconciling and sharing their personal experiences as well as broadening the traditional narrative surrounding service and the military culture

I N D I V I D U A L   W R I T E R S

These writers are all listed by war in the section Soldier and Veteran Writers — Past and Ongoing Wars, yet here’s some additional coverage of their individual bodies of work. Articles are listed in alphabetical order by author’s last name, and in chronological order by date of the essay, interview, review, or radio program.

W.D. Erhardt

For Mrs. Na, by W. D. Ehrhart, Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 1987

Last Flight Out From the War Zone, by W. D. Ehrhart, Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 1987

What Grace is Found in So Much Loss?, W. D. Ehrhart writes of soldier poets, Virginia Quarterly Review, winter 1997

War and Literature, review of Erhardt’s The Madness of It All: Essays on War, Literature and America Life, in Virginia Quarterly Review, Jan Barry, summer 2003

Jeff Key

Semper Fi’s Jeff Key: A Marine who did ask and tell, Examiner, Kim Williams, 2010.9.22

Gay Iraq War Vet Brings One-Man Show to New York, The Morton Report, Jon Sobel, 2011.6.6

Mehadi Foundation, helping Iraq and Afghan war vets heal from PTSD, founded by Jeff Key

Semper Fi: One Marine’s Journey, documentary about Jeff Key, Internet Movie Database

Phil Klay

National Book Award Goes to Phil Klay for his Short Story Collection, NY Times, Alexandra Alter, Nov 2014

Redeployment by Phil Klay review—’Incendiary stories of war,‘ The Guardian, Edward Docx, March 2014

The Long Road Home: ‘Redeployment’ by Phil Klay, NY Times, Dexter Filkins, March 2014

2014 National Book Award Winner, Fiction, National Book Foundation

‘Redeployment’ Explores Iraq War’s Physical and Psychic Costs, NPR, John Powers, March 2014

Norman Mailer

The Naked And The Dead (1948), excerpt

Martin Amis Interviews Norman Mailer: ‘I Can See A War Starting Within Capitalism Itself,’ BBC, 1991

A Brief History of Norman Mailer, PBS American Masters, J. Michael Lennon, 2001.10.19

Norman Mailer Society

Tim O’Brien

A Conversation With Tim O’Brien, Artful Dodge, Debra Shostak, 1991.10.2

‘The Things They Carried,’ 20 Years On, NPR, 2010.3.24

Big Think Interview With Tim O’Brien, Big Think, 2010.4.21

Wilfred Owen

The Wilfred Owen Collection, First World War Poetry Digital Archive

Wilfred Owen in Voices in Wartime, Voices Education Project, 2008.7.20

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), BBC, Historic Figures, 2011

James Salter

James Salter, The Art of Fiction, No. 133, Paris Review, Interviewed by Edward Hirsch, 1993

A Teller of Tales Tells His Own, New York Times, by Samuel Hynes, 1997.9.7

A Conversation with Author James Salter, Charlie Rose, 1997.7.19

Josef Škvorecký

Josef Škvorecký, The Art of Fiction, No. 112, Paris Review, Interviewed by John Glusman, 1989

Audio Interview with Josef Skvorecky, CBS, Don Swaim, 1984.9.18

All’s Well That Ends Well: An interview with Josef Škvorecký, Central Europe Review, Julie Hansen, 2000.10.30

Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone Goes Back to War, Time, Kay Johnson, 2007.9.7

Conversations with History: Oliver Stone, UC Television, 2008.7.15

Oliver Stone And The Politics of Film-making, Guardian UK, The Observer, Carole Cadwalladr, 2010.7.18

Oliver Stone Talks War, Politics, and Actors at BIFF’s Closing Night, Daily Camera, Amy Bounds, 2011.2.20

Anthony Swofford

“Jarhead” by Anthony Swofford, Salon.com, Laura Miller, 2003.3.10

Anthony Swofford, The Daily Show, Jon Stewart, 2003.4.1

Jarhead, Mother Jones, Adam Shemper, 2005.11.3

Claude AnShin Thomas 

Claude AnShin Thomas and Larry Hamzah Chamberlain, American Zen Pilgrimage to a small traveling version of the Vietnam Memorial Wall, Kansas, 1998

Zaltho Foundation, founder

Claude AnShin Thomas, The Progressive, radio interview

At Hell’s Gate, An Interview with Claude AnShin ThomasNew Connexion, 2004.11

Rev. Claude Anshin Thomas, “Veterans Retreat,” Omega Institute, 2009.4.7

Brian Turner 

Iraq Soldier Describes War in Poetry, NPR Morning Edition, 2006.1.6

Poet and Iraq Veteran Brian Turner Reads from His Collection “Here, Bullet”, The Fishhouse, 2009.7.3

Poet Profile: Brian Turner, Jim Lehrer News Hour, 2006.2.26

A Poem for the Last American Soldier to Die in Iraq, Brian Turner, fall 2008

Tobias Wolff

Tobias WolffSalon, Joan King

Brutal Beginnings, Guardian UK, James Campbell, 2008.7.19

Interview with Tobias Wolff, Bat Segundo Show, Edward Champion, 2008.4.14

War Stories, Tobias Wolff, O, The Oprah Magazine, 2008.7

Stephen Wright

Steve Wright Interview with Don Swaim, CBS, 1983

Drugged in Vietnam: Meditations in Green, New York Times, Walter Kendrick, 1983.11.6

Stephen Wright’s Literary Landscape, The Morning News, Interview with Patrick Ambrose, 2006.6.7

This list is an ongoing work-in-progress and by no means reflects the scope and range of veterans’ writings. Please post recommendations and corrections in the comments box below. See Soldier and Veteran Writers — Past and Ongoing Wars for a list of soldier-writers by war.

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