Last year, a war book came out with a unique premise. Instead of including reflections of a war that has passed, current soldiers were asked to send in stories, essays, poems, journal excerpts, and other writings that they have written while this war is in progress. These writings first started showing up in national magazines such as the New Yorker, a privilege for anyone let alone an otherwise average person with no previous writing experience. The complete collection of writings obtained from these soldiers was titled “Operation Homecoming” and came out in 2006. A dozen pieces were read on Thursday at the New Hazlett Theater in Pittsburgh’s North Side.

The idea behind the book came from The National Endowment for the Arts with received a grant from defense contractor Boeing for $450,000. The program collected writings and offered writing workshops for soldiers to tell their stories about fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Famous writers including Tobias Wolff, Richard Wilbur, Bobbie Ann Mason, Tom Clancy, Mark Bowden and Jeff Shaara participated in writing workshops at 25 military bases in the United States and abroad to help the soldiers express themselves. They were never asked to censor themselves in terms of gore or politics. Families of the soldiers were also encouraged to submit work about the experiences of having a loved one fighting in the war.

Their efforts resulted in about 100 eyewitness accounts, private journals, short stories, letters, e-mails, poems, and other personal writings. They include experiences such as heading into battle, interacting with the Afghans and Iraqis as both enemies and friends, boredom, humorous incidents, anxiety from families, brutal circumstances, and homecomings. The book is available from Random House for $26.95.

For related articles visit http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07206/804069-44.stm and http://www.arts.gov/national/homecoming/index.html.

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