Soldiers' stories: SEMO Press book collects tales from veterans

Friday, November 16, 2012

Veterans Day marked the release of a new book published locally and partially written by veterans with ties to Southeast Missouri.

The anthology, titled "Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors, Volume 1," includes submissions from four local veterans and was published through a partnership between Southeast Missouri State University Press, the Missouri Humanities Council and the Warrior Arts Alliance.

Susan Swartwout, a professor of English at Southeast Missouri State Univeristy and the book's editor, thought the book's release on Veterans Day was highly appropriate.

"We couldn't think of a better day," Swartwout said. "Veterans have so many stories to tell, and this is a way for them to express themselves creatively."

"Proud to Be" contains essays, stories, poems and photographs from 61 active military personnel, veterans and families of veterans across the country.

Four local servicemen wrote about their experiences: Levi Bollinger, an English teacher and master's candidate at Southeast who served in the U.S. Army Reserve; Larry Breeze, professor emeritus of history at Southeast and a World War II combat veteran; Aaron Horrell, artist and manager of the Painted Wren Art Gallery in Cape Girardeau and a U.S. Navy Seabee during the Vietnam War; and Nicholas Watts-Fernandez of the U.S. Navy, a Southeast graduate currently serving in Afghanistan.

"We had so many contributors for the project," Swartwout said. "It's quite large for a first volume. In the beginning, we were worried we wouldn't have enough material for the volume. But the outpouring of stories was more than was expected."

"Proud to Be" is the first volume in a planned series of anthologies that will contain the stories of veterans past and present. One selection is a 1918 letter home from a World War I soldier, Phillip Renner, that was donated by his family. Another is titled "Hyphenated-American" by Jan Morrill, which tells the story of the author's uncle, a Japanese-American who fought in the U.S. Army in World War II and won the Bronze Star while his family lived in an internment camp in California.

"There are multiple voices telling their stories," Swartwout said. "Not all of them are of the flag-waving, marching-in-parades variety. The life these people lead while in service to their country and when they come home is sometimes fraught with issues. One veteran told me after submitting his story that he didn't feel lonely anymore."

The Warriors Arts Alliance writing project was launched as a pilot program between the Missouri Humanities Council and the Missouri Writer's Guild last year. The project featured creative writing workshops in veterans hospitals to promote self-expression, with laptops provided by the Humanities Council. The workshops developed into the Warrior Arts Alliance and also into a new idea to create an annual anthology written by veterans. The Southeast Missouri State University Press stepped in to publish the first volume.

"Proud to Be" is now available at the Southeast bookstore, barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com. The book will be released in paperback at Barnes and Noble in the coming weeks.

klewis@semissourian.com

388-3635

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