Warrior Writers Program Receives Geske Award
Veterans Writing Workshop Recognized for Contribution to Literacy
On November 9, Nebraska Warrior Writers received the 2019 Jane Geske Award From the Nebraska Center for the Book. This program, a cooperative effort by Humanities Nebraska with the Nebraska Writing Project and the Veterans Administration, Gives Military veterans and active duty personnel access to free coaching from professional writing instructors. Sharing her thoughts on this important program is Sara Hollcroft, an English teacher and facilitator for the lincoln program.
On a crisp Saturday autumn morning, several men and women entered the Veterans Administration office in Lincoln, Nebraska. Their counterparts in Omaha were also gathering at their meeting place. Since 2014, they have met six weeks in the fall and again in the spring. They are vets or family members of vets, and they are called the Warrior Writers because that is what they do.
Several are Vietnam vets who find a safe harbor for writing with other vets. Or as another veteran from a different deployment, John Petelle, states, “A knowledge that we are not alone.”
They want to write.
Andy Gueck says of the group, “We all wore the uniform of our country, and we accept each other unconditionally.”
Gueck, one of the original members of the Warrior Writers, states he was not a writer before attending the writing group, but now he is.
Mary Baker, one of the female vets present, likes the safe place to share her writing and her heart with veterans who understand what she has been through in her career. They have become her friends who push her to be a better person.
Another female writer writes about her sexual assault while in the military. Another is outlining a book on her own assault, ready to name names. Writing helps liberate them from their past shadows. Perhaps then, they can retake control. Perhaps then, sleep comes easier. Perhaps then, the powers-to-be will listen.
Nebraska Warrior Writers is a partnership between the Nebraska Writing Project and Humanities Nebraska that gives these vets support and hope.
Warrior Writers do not usually write about their experiences of combat, but some write about their attempt to heal afterwards. The poem “The Healing Wall” by Gueck speaks of family and friends who visit the wall for hope when the name they seek is not there or for closure when it is.
However, it might be said that the wall is not for the soldier, but for the person who spit on the soldiers, who called them “worthless” and “baby killers.” It is those people who need to heal, to learn to forgive themselves.
The Warrior Writers program helps vets heal through the sharing and acceptance of their writing with others. They laugh together hearing a story about grilling meat on a car’s engine as a fellow vet’s family drives the long miles to their destination. Laughter heals.
And they understand the sorrow of death of another vet’s family member. There is a sense of knowing without actually knowing when a fellow vet needs comforting, who is struggling with life itself. They have been there themselves. Warrior Writers helps vets be heard, accepted, appreciated, and valued.
Veteran Joel Elwell, a novelist in the making, shared that the Saturday sessions help him to hone in on his writing skills without outside pressure. The Warrior Writers guest speakers and the books covering topics such as revising, publishing, and the overall craft of writing (paid for by HN), all help Elwell and the other participants improve and expand their writing.
Writers learn to recognize and trust their growth as writers. It often tells them something they didn’t know about themselves—that they are stronger than they thought.
Writing empowers them. Writing is a way to shine a beacon of light for others. It can be an act of defiance, but for most of the vets, it is a labor of love, faith, and hope.
As to the name of the writing group, in the words of Elwell and Gueck, “The title, ‘Warrior Writers,’ describes who we were, not who we are.”
And so, the warriors write on.