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Writing workshop to help soldiers, families tell their stories

Movies, books and television shows tend to highlight two kinds of military stories: The heroic private saves a platoon in a midnight firefight or the wounded soldier returns home a broken soul. But there is much more to life in uniform. Just ask ...

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Duluth writer, pilot and Air Force veteran Eric Chandler created a two-day workshop to help writers tell military stories. Photo by Mark Nicklawske

 

Movies, books and television shows tend to highlight two kinds of military stories: The heroic private saves a platoon in a midnight firefight or the wounded soldier returns home a broken soul.

But there is much more to life in uniform. Just ask anyone who has served.

Duluth writer, pilot and Air Force veteran Eric Chandler hopes to capture those hidden stories and share them in a two-day writing workshop open to all those touched by life in the service. “Bridging the Gap: A Writing Workshop for Military Storytelling” will be held Saturday and Sunday at the Fitger’s Brewery Complex in Duluth.

Chandler said Americans typically salute veterans with parades but listening to their stories can be more significant. The storytelling process can lead to a better understanding of what it’s like to serve the country.

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“I’ve had commanders when I was in Iraq say, ‘Hey, go home and tell your story,’” he said. “I’ve done some writing myself, so I thought it was something I could pull off.”

After attending a writing conference in Washington, D.C., last year, Chandler created a smaller scale Duluth event to help writers tell military stories. The Arrowhead Regional Arts Council authorized a $5,000 grant for the project.

Bridging the Gap will feature presentations from four national writers and instructors. Chandler said the speakers have all played different roles in the military and written about their lives with different perspectives.

“If I can encourage people to write about those experiences,” Chandler said, “then maybe some of that writing will enter the public arena and can help shatter the idea that there are only two types of veterans, two types of experiences.”

University of Minnesota Duluth associate professor and journalism program director John Hatcher said writing workshops can inspire people to share their stories.

“Storytelling is how we communicate as humans, so in some ways, it's wired into us,” he said. “What most people need is the permission to tell their own stories. People assume their own stories are just their lives and not particularly interesting. But, when you press them, most people have important stories to share - stories that others will connect to and learn from.”

Sharing stories not only benefits readers with new knowledge, Hatcher said; sometimes it benefits the writer.

“Veterans, especially those with military service, may benefit from the healing that comes from telling a story,” he said.

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Duluth Veterans Memorial Hall program assistant Jay Hagen said the St. Louis County Historical Society collects and archives military stories. A small room at the Historic Duluth Depot is jammed with volumes of written work from local veterans.

“So many stories have been lost to history,” he said. “We’re doing our best to hang on to them.”

Hagen said future generations will seek out military stories as they study U.S. history and family roots. He said storytelling has played an important role in national development.

Chandler said he hopes veterans and families of veterans will be eager to participate in the workshop, and that the public will come to hear their stories.

“Hopefully it bears fruit,” he said. “It’s entirely about those instructors, those readers and those writers that hopefully will come and have a good experience. It will be nice to sit back and let people do their thing.”

If you go What: “Bridging the Gap: A Writing Workshop for Military Storytelling”

When: Workshop sessions all day Saturday and Sunday, June 2-3. Public reading and panel discussion 7 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Fitger’s Brewery Complex in Duluth.

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Who: All members of the military past and present and their families and friends. Anyone interested in military life.

For more information or to register: Go to @bridgingthegapDLH on Facebook or bridgingthegapdlh.wordpress.com.

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