Denver writing workshop leads to book of veterans’ stories

Many veterans 'Still Coming Home'


When a dozen or so Denver veterans joined a writing workshop in 2017, they had no idea they would be reading their work to hundreds of community members just a year later — and that they would be published, too.

In August 2018, the Denver Veterans Writing Workshop published 13 participants’ work in the workshop’s first anthology, “Still Coming Home.” All contributors were regular participants in the workshop, started by author and veteran Jason Arment in 2015 after finding there were no consistent writing workshops for veterans in Denver.

Arment quickly realized one of his biggest challenges would be spreading the word about the group.

“For people who want to get stuff started with veterans, it’s ridiculously hard to get the word out,” he said, adding that most organizations offering veteran services are extremely busy.

“All these places are maxed out as far as what they can do,” he said. “There’s no organization I can call to say `disseminate this information.’ ”

Advertising fell to Arment, and he accepted the challenge, putting thousands of flyers up around town.

He also reached out to other writers, as well as Colorado Humanities’ Center for the Book. The center supported the workshop, which regularly attracts 10 to 15 participants each month, as part of its mission to connect local veterans with the humanities.

“We asked veterans what we could help them change, and they confirmed that their difficulty was coming home,” said Colorado Humanities’ Josephine Jones, director of programs and Center for the Book. “And they said if people could hear their stories and know them as individuals, it would help.”

Colorado Humanities invited Arment to submit writers’ work to appear in an anthology, which the organization assisted in publishing.

One title, countless stories

For many of the writers, the anthology was their first experience publishing work, just as the workshop was their first experience sharing their work with anyone.

“I’ve actually written poetry all my life. I’ve just never shown it to anyone until then,” said veteran Michael McAndrew, who wrote several of the poems in the anthology.

“I guess if I had any goal, it was just to meet other veterans,” he said. “I wanted to hear what they had to say and say something myself.”

While most of the group members have served in the military, the workshop welcomes any local writers. One such writer, Crisosto Apache, simply wanted to be around other writers.

Apache has never served in the military; however, one of his favorite parts of the workshop is having the opportunity to hear from the veterans in his community.

“I’m so appreciative, because I’m sitting in a group people who have served in the military,” he said. “It’s nice to listen to their experiences.”

He particularly values his co-members’ military experience, as it often brings helpful insight into his work. His pieces — which are based on his experience as a Native American and member of the LGBTQ community — play a role in his effort to resolve his feelings about past events. This is something his fellow group members understand well, he said.

“Still Coming Home” includes essays, poetry and fiction. Each piece ties into the title of the book, which was decided upon by the contributors and the book’s editors, Arment, Steven Dunn and Bethany Strout.

The theme applies to each contributor’s work in different ways.

Luke Martinez, for example, is a veteran and genealogist whose work focuses on his ancestor who fought in the Civil War. He said he appreciates the way the title applies to his co-members’ modern day pieces as well as his historically based story.

“Even though we’re 150 years after the Civil War, people are still coming home,” he said. “People still continue to serve and come home after their service experience in all these different conflicts.”

For McAndrew, his writing is a way to understand the significance of key moments during his deployment — from a simple meal to the moment he saw a man throw his wedding ring into the ocean.

“It’s reflecting on what that moment meant to me then,” he said, “but also what it means to me now.”

For those who contributed to the first anthology, the workshop now represents an opportunity to continue growing in a craft they all enjoy.

“We’ve made some writers out of people who didn’t realize they were writers, and now they do,” Arment said. “And we’ve definitely pushed veteran issues forward in ways that just weren’t happening.”


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