Monday, February 25, 2019

Warrior Writers at Stockton

Somalia vet Sarah Mess reads poetry at Stockton University
(photo/Jan Barry)

A Warrior Writers workshop at Stockton University in Galloway, NJ on Saturday drew more than a dozen diverse participants to write and talk about often harsh experiences in the military and beyond, including brushes with death, survivor guilt, sexual assault, and hidden impacts on family members.

The multi-ethnic group included a wife who attended with her husband, a sister who came with her brother in memory of another brother who died young after serving in Vietnam, men and women veterans of the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps who served in war zones from Vietnam to Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as a wide variety of other duty stations including Germany and Guantanamo Bay.

Several workshop participants then presented selections of their poetry or prose in a performance in the college theater. The writing workshop and performance were adroitly guided by Valerie Stemac, an Air Force veteran whose transition from PTSD patient to poet is conveyed in a new HBO documentary, “We Are Not Done Yet.”

The film is about a group of combat veterans and otherwise severely injured soldiers who create a collaborative poem in writing workshops at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, which they perform together at a theater in Washington, DC, under the direction of actor Jeffrey Wright. Warrior Writers has helped facilitate workshops and performances at military bases and art centers in the Washington area, in collaboration with Seema Reza, co-founder of Community Building Art Works.

Formed in 2007 in Philadelphia, PA, Warrior Writers has fostered workshops and public performances in cities and towns across the U.S., embracing veterans of all eras. In New Jersey, monthly writing workshops are hosted at the VA Vet Center in Secaucus and at Frontline Arts in Branchburg. Public performances have included appearances at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, Puffin Cultural Forum in Teaneck, art galleries in Jersey City, Montclair and Somerville, and the New York City Poetry Festival.

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