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SDSU’s Great Plains Writers Conference features military focus

by
World War II Journalist Earnie Pyle.
(IU.edu)
World War II Journalist Earnie Pyle. (IU.edu)

Brookings, S.D. (KELO AM) - According to South Dakota State University professor Steve Wingate, people have been writing about war for as long as they have been writing. This year’s Great Plains Writers Conference, to be held March 23-25 on the SDSU campus, invites participants to do just that.

With presentations from writers ranging in specialty from poetry to journalism and beyond—many of them veterans themselves—the conference promises to provide ample opportunities to explore writing the military experience.The Great Plains Writers Conference began in 1976 under the direction of distinguished professor Charles Woodard and South Dakota’s poet laureate David Allen Evans. When Wingate arrived on campus in 2011, the conference had been reduced to a one-day event.  Wingate saw an opportunity to expand the presence of literature in the community and began the process of revamping the conference.

“It’s easy for people to look at writing as a selfish or self-involved activity since people usually do it alone,” said Wingate. “Writers are perceived as isolated from society. The current view of the conference works totally against that. It showcases the ways in which writing is crucial to people’s identities and the collective identity of culture.”The theme of this year’s conference is “Coming Home: War, Healing and American Culture.

”The English department has worked closely with Lt. Col. Aaron Schultz of the campus ROTC program and Brian Mahaffy of the Veterans Resource Center to encourage the community’s active military and veteran populations to take advantage of the conference. Keith Corbett, dean of the University College and a brigadier general, has also played a part in reaching out to the city and community to raise awareness.The conference features presentations from Brian Turner, David Abrams, Ron Capps, Patrick Hicks and Katey Schultz, among others.

Turner, author of poetry collections “Here, Bullet” and “Phantom Noise,” was an active member of the military for seven years and continues to be a leader in the movement to connect the humanities, particularly creative writing, to the active military and veteran experience.

“Turner has been a very important figure in the literature of America’s recent wars,” said Wingate. “His book ‘Here, Bullet’ speaks very directly to concerns about what it means to be at war. He has been an outspoken presenter, speaker and workshop leader for veterans’ writing since he got back from overseas. ”Abrams served on active duty as a journalist in the Army for 20 years. His yearlong deployment overseas with Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005 provided the experiences that inspired his satiric novel “Fobbit,” a New York Times Notable Book of 2012.

Ron Capps, the founder and director of the Veterans Writing Project, has 25 years of U.S. Army and Army Reserve service under his belt, as well as combat experience in Afghanistan. Capps is in the process of setting up writing centers specifically for veterans.

“One of our long-term goals is to establish a veterans’ writing program here at SDSU through cooperative efforts of the English department and the Veterans Resource Center,” said Wingate. As part of the conference, guest presenters and SDSU faculty will host a workshop on writing the military experience. Veterans and military personnel of all ages are welcome to attend. The full schedule of events is as follows. All are open to the public, unless otherwise indicated, and free of charge.

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