I read a New York Times article last year by Iraq War veteran Phil Klay, winner of the National Book Award and one of the authors we will read from during the new Veterans Book Group, coming next week to Parkland College. A paragraph from Klay’s article speaks to the crux of this project:
“If we fetishize trauma as incommunicable, then survivors are trapped—unable to feel truly known by their nonmilitary friends and family. At a recent Veterans Day performance put on by Arts in the Armed Forces, Adam Driver, the organization’s founder, a former Marine turned actor, spoke of his feelings of alienation after leaving the corps. ‘Not being able to express the anger, confusion and loneliness I felt was challenging,’ he said, until theater exposed him ‘to playwrights and characters and plays that had nothing to do with the military, that were articulating experiences I had in the military, that before to me were indescribable.'”
Klay goes on to state, “It’s a powerful moment, when you discover a vocabulary exists for something you’d thought incommunicably unique.” We believe this is what literature can do, and it’s what we hope to provide book group participants: a safe place to read about others’ experiences about war and discuss their own.
John Fundator and I will serve as co-facilitators for the group. A senior communications specialist with the University of Illinois Foundation, John served in the U.S. Army (1977–1981) and the Illinois Army National Guard (1981–1998). He was a weekend soldier in the Guard when he was called up for a yearlong deployment during the Bosnia conflict of the early 1990s. John was part of a public affairs unit and wrote about the conflict for that year.
John had a wife (me!) and three small children (6-year-old twins and a one-year old) at home during that time. This gives us some understanding of the difficulty of separation many vets and their families feel. My position as full-time professor of humanities at Parkland will bring a literary background to the book discussions that we hope vets will also find useful.
No matter your age or military experience, as a veteran, you are welcome to take part in this free book group! We’ll read works from various eras, ranging from Stephen Crane’s Civil War-era short story, The Veteran, to Ernest Hemingway’s Soldier’s Home, a narrative of one young World War I veteran’s return to civilian life. We’ll even read recently published selections by Klay, whose writing reflects the wartime and post-war experiences of contemporary combat veterans.
The National Endowment for the Humanities has generously provided funding for this book group in conjunction with its initiative, Standing Together: The Humanities and the Experience of War. The initiative aims to promote understanding of the military experience and to support returning veterans.
We invite you to become part of the Veteran’s Book Group at Parkland by contacting the Illinois Humanities Council’s Matt Meacham at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312/422-5589.
“Standing Together: A Veterans Book Group”
January 27, February 10, February 24, and March 10
5:30 to 7 p.m.
Parkland College Student Union, Room U230
Hosted by the Illinois Humanities Council (IHC), Parkland College, and Crosspoint Human Services