In May, I attended a screening of Jaws at the Metrograph in New York City, hosted by Arts in the Armed Forces (AITAF). The film concluded with a talk back session with actor Adam Driver and director/ screenwriter Steven Soderbergh. It was an incredible learning experience, and I left wondering if other opportunities and resources existed for U.S. military veterans who are writers. After some research, I discovered there are some big ones. And much like the quiet professionals who lead them, many of these amazing programs exist in the shadows with little fanfare.
The Veterans Writing Project provides no-cost seminars and workshops—for fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and playwriting—led by working writers who hold MA or MFA writing degrees at locations around the country. There is also a mentorship program for students with completed/nearly completed book length projects who would like feedback on finalizing their work. The Veterans Writing Project’s quarterly literary magazine, The Review, is published at their sister website O’Dark Thirty, and is a place where veterans can submit stories.
The University of Iowa publishes The Iowa Review and hosts a creative writing contest for veterans writing in any genre about any subject matter. The contest is made possible by a gift from the family of Jeff Sharlet—a Vietnam veteran and antiwar writer and activist. First place is $1,000 plus publication in an issue of The Iowa Review, second place $750, and three runners-up received $500 each. They also host a veterans’ online writing gallery.
Fordham University sponsors cost-free, professional-level writing workshops in the New York City metro area for U.S. veterans. Their ten-week program meets once-a-week and culminates with the publication of their annual print anthology, Afterwords. They also offer public readings and other events where veterans can share their stories.
George Mason University (GMU) provides poetry workshops for veterans and supports the Heroes’ Voices National Veterans Poetry Contest—a venture with Heroes’ Voices in San Francisco, CA. There are monetary prizes and winning submissions are published and featured in public readings in San Francisco, California and at GMU’s Manassas campus in Virginia.
The University of California offers the UC Student Veterans Writing Workshop, a program for their enrolled students. Veterans from ten UC campuses gather for five days during the summer to study and practice the art of storytelling. The workshop is free of charge and includes lodging and meals. Instant Separation, an online journal of military experience from the University of California is a venue for students to publish stories.
Local libraries around the country host community based programs as well. For example, The White Plains Public Library in New York hosts a weekly writing class for veterans. Student compositions are published in an anthology and a reading is held at the library.
Plays and Screenwriting
A non-profit organization founded by Adam Driver, AITAF’s mission is to provide high-quality performing arts programming to active duty service members, veterans, military support staff and their families around the world free of charge. Besides providing incredible programming (like a talk back session with Steven Soderbergh about the movie Jaws), AITAF also offers The Bridge Award to an emerging playwright who served or is currently serving in the military. It consists of a $10,000 prize and an AITAF produced reading of the winning work with a reception and feedback session. The head judge this past year was Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks.
The Writers Guild Foundation Veterans Writing Project provides education and mentorship to emerging writers from U.S. military backgrounds. Each year, 40 veterans are accepted into this Los Angeles based, tuition-free, twelve-month program. It’s comprised of a weekend retreat, monthly workshops, special events, and one-on-one mentoring by Writers Guild of America members from successful movies and television series. Many applicants are television writers or screenwriters, but novelists may apply. Students complete a screenplay or TV pilot at the completion of the program and make connections with professionals in the movie and television industries.
The United States Veterans’ Artists Alliance (USVAA) is an award-winning, multi-disciplinary non-profit arts organization that highlights work of veterans in the arts, humanities and entertainment industry, and finds funding and support for individual artistic projects in theater, film, television, and the visual/fine arts. USVAA works closely with The Writers Guild Foundation Veterans Writing Project and hosts stage presentations of scenes and selected readings from television and movie scripts, novels and memoirs written by veterans.
These are just some of the highlights from the amazing things I discovered—opportunities I hope that benefit DIY MFA readers. I encourage you to explore universities, colleges, and libraries near your homes and let us know what you find.
If you aren’t a veteran, you can still volunteer to support events and connect with some incredible people. You never know who you may meet. It could be someone who inspires your next story.
Stacy Woodson writes romantic suspense and crime fiction. She is a U.S. Army veteran and memories of her time in the military play a role in her stories. A Daphne du Maurier winner and Publishers Weekly contributor, her recent story, “Duty. Honor. Hammett.,” will appear in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. She loves staying connected. You can find her at www.stacywoodson.com.