U.S. Armed Forces active duty troops and veterans of both current and past conflicts will have an in-depth opportunity to reflect on their service through the National Endowment for the Arts’ groundbreaking initiative Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience. For the first time, Operation Homecoming will invite veterans as well as active duty troops to participate in progressive, four-to-six-week writing workshops at 25 sites around the country. The new phase of Operation Homecoming is the first instance in which the NEA will hold writing workshops at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers, military hospitals, and affiliated centers in communities around the country. St. Louis VA Medical Center in Missouri and Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, served as pilot sites for the new phase of the program, and both facilities will host workshops this summer.
Nationally acclaimed writers, such as Andrew Carroll, Tobias Wolff, Jeff Shaara, and Marilyn Nelson, will lead sessions. In an extraordinary opportunity to build closer ties between local and military communities, local literary organizations and writers will partner with many of the workshop sites. The NEA collaborated with the Department of Veterans Affairs as well as the Department of Defense to develop current Operation Homecoming activities. Operation Homecoming is made possible with support from The Boeing Company.
“Operation Homecoming is an important program in both human and historical terms,” said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. “In human terms, it brings the transformative power of writing to men and women who have undergone enormously challenging experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. In historical terms, it gives voice to the troops who have served in this war.”
“I commend the NEA for providing a positive outlet for our service members to share their experiences,” said Dr. James Peake, Secretary of Veterans Affairs. “These workshops serve to highlight and improve veterans’ writing talents by putting on paper reminders to all of us of their heroism.”
As evidence of the literary achievement of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, the Arts Endowment has added three new faculty members who served in the conflicts: playwright Ryan Kelly, poet Brian Turner, and journalist Nathaniel Fick. Matthew Eck, author of the novel The Farther Shore and an Army veteran who served in Somalia and Bosnia; Vietnam War veteran Robert Timberg, editor of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine and author of The Nightingale’s Song; and Kristin Henderson, a military spouse and author of While They’re at War, are other new faculty members.
To facilitate the multi-week workshops, the NEA has partnered with the Southern Arts Federation to offer each participant free materials to aid the writing process, including a guide for writers. The guide was edited by project consultant Andrew Carroll, a noted expert on wartime correspondence and editor of the Operation Homecoming anthology. The guide offers advice on writing and samples of notable wartime writing by veterans, civilians, and Operation Homecoming contributors. Participants also will receive 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 Operation Homecoming anthology for use as reference materials during the workshops.
Since 2004, the NEA Operation Homecoming writing program has preserved the stories of U.S. military personnel and their families. With support from The Boeing Company, Operation Homecoming has brought 59 writing workshops to troops at 27 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 Wolff, Shaara, Nelson, Richard Bausch, Bobbie Ann Mason, Joe Haldeman, and Mark Bowden. In tandem with the workshops, the Arts Endowment offered an open call for writing submissions to active military personnel and their families. This ongoing call has resulted in more than 1,200 submissions and 12,000 pages of writings. Almost 100 of the submissions to the NEA were featured in the anthology Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families (Random House, 2006). Operation Homecoming was named one of the “Best of 2006” in nonfiction by The Washington Post Book World. The University of Chicago Press will release an expanded paperback version on Memorial Day 2008. The Operation Homecoming archives will be preserved in both the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project.
Workshop sites and participation
The 2008 Operation Homecoming writing workshops are free and open to active duty troops and veterans, with a focus on those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military families may participate as allowed by host facilities. The initial workshops will be held in the following cities, with more workshops to be announced:
VA Palo Alto Health Care System, Palo Alto, CA
Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, DC
Miami VA Healthcare System, Miami, FL
St. Louis VA Medical Center, St. Louis, MO
U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College, Marine Corps University, Quantico, VA
For more information on registration, dates and locations, visit www.operationhomecoming.org. The website contains other educational resources on writing, from essays on the craft of writing to sample audio clips from the Operation Homecoming CD.
NEA partnerships with military communities
Operation Homecoming is the largest of several landmark partnerships between the NEA and the Department of Defense. The projects include the NEA’s national reading program The Big Read in communities with military bases; the Great American Voices Military Base Tour, which brought professional performances of opera and musical theater to 39 military bases nationwide; and Shakespeare in American Communities Military Base Tour, professional theater performances at 18 military bases. The Boeing Company sponsored The Big Read and Great American Voices military community projects. For more information on these and other NEA programs, visit www.arts.gov.
Operation Homecoming is administered by the Southern Arts Federation and is made possible with support from The Boeing Company.
About the National Endowment for the Arts
The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Arts Endowment is the largest annual national funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases.
About the Southern Arts Federation
The Southern Arts Federation (SAF) is a nonprofit regional arts organization that has been making a positive difference in the arts throughout the South since 1975. SAF creates partnerships and collaborations; assists in the professional development of artists, arts organizations and arts professionals; presents, promotes and produces Southern arts and cultural programming; and advocates for the arts and art education. The organization works in partnership with the nine state arts agencies of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
About The Boeing Company
Boeing is the world's leading aerospace company and the largest manufacturer of commercial jetliners and military aircraft combined. Additionally, Boeing designs and manufactures rotorcraft, electronic and defense systems, missiles, satellites, launch vehicles and advanced information and communication systems. The company also provides numerous military and commercial airline support services. Boeing has customers in more than 90 countries around the world and is one of the largest U.S. exporters in terms of sales. Headquartered in Chicago, it employs more than 160,000 people across the United States and in 70 countries.