Panel: Beyond Combat Narratives: The New Wave of Military Writing

A partnership with Litquake
Sunday, 10/15/2023
12:00 - 1:00
Koret Auditorium
Main Library

100 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

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More than two decades after 9/11, the myriad effects of sustained warfare are only beginning to come to light. Predominant narratives persist in reducing stories to simplistic binaries of Hero or Victim, Us or Them, but a new wave of military writing seeks to expand the conversation. Writers Abby Murray, Andria Williams, Lauren Kay Johnson, Liam Curley, M.C. Armstrong and Steven Moore have spoken out on issues like toxin exposure, misinformation, moral injury, generational trauma, and toxic masculinity. These writers will discuss the issues they seek to illuminate, emerging trends in the military genre, and the challenges and importance of writing against masculine traditions and combat-driven narratives.

M.C. Armstrong is the author of The Mysteries of Haditha, published in 2020 by Potomac Books. The Brooklyn Rail called The Mysteries of Haditha one of the “Best Books of 2020,” and Armstrong’s story was nominated for “Best Memoir” at the 2021 American Book Festival. Armstrong, who grew up in Winchester, Virginia, embedded with Joint Special Operations Forces in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, in 2008. He published extensively on the Iraq war through The Winchester Star. Armstrong is the winner of a Pushcart Prize and his fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Esquire, American Book Review, Criticism, Consequence Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, The Missouri Review, The Gettysburg Review, Mayday, Monkeybicycle, Wrath-bearing Tree, Epiphany, War, Literature, & the Arts, The Literary Review, and other journals and anthologies. He is the guitarist and lead singer-songwriter for Viva la Muerte, an original rock and roll band. His first novel, American Delphi, was published in the fall of 2022 by Milspeak Books, and his study of post–9/11 veteran-activists will be published by Bloomsbury in 2024.

Liam Corley is a professor of American literature at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. His work on literature and war has been published in War, Literature, & the Arts, College English, the Journal of Veterans Studies, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. His current academic project, The Voice of the Veteran in Eighteenth and Nineteenth-Century American Literature, has received a year-long research fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Corley is the author of Determined Dreamer, Bayard Taylor and America’s Rise, 1825-1878 (Bucknell University Press, 2014) and UNWOUND: Poems from Enduring War (Middle West Press, 2023). A debut science fiction novel, Changelings: Insurgence, is forthcoming from MilSpeak Books in November 2023. An award-winning poet, his work has appeared in First Things, Chautauqua, The Wrath-Bearing Tree, Strange Horizons, O-Dark-Thirty, Inlandia, Badlands, and War, Literature, & the Arts. Since 2004, Corley has served as an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He has completed multiple deployments, including ones to Afghanistan, Iraq, and throughout the Pacific area of operations. He lives in southern California with his wife and four children.

Lauren Kay Johnson is a former military public affairs officer and Afghanistan veteran. Her memoir, The Fine Art of Camouflage (MilSpeak Books, 2023), chronicles her coming-of-age against the backdrop of war—beginning with her mother's Army career and deployment in support of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm when Lauren was seven years old, and later with her own service. Lauren holds an MFA in nonfiction writing from Emerson College in Boston, and her work has appeared in venues including the Washington Post, the Atlantic, Boston Globe Magazine, and Glamour. Her writing and interviews have been used in the creation of dance and theater productions, and she has lectured at schools, conferences, and veteran centers across the country, including the Association of Writers and Writing Programs national conference, the Boston Book Festival, and the University of Iowa. A writing consultant with GrubStreet and an editor at the Wrath-Bearing Tree, Lauren lives with her husband and twin daughters outside Seattle. By day, she is a program director at IGNITE Worldwide, a nonprofit that aims to combat the gender imbalance in STEM fields. By night, she writes and eats copious amounts of ice cream.

Steven Moore is the author of The Longer We Were There: A Memoir of a Part-Time Soldier (University of Georgia Press, 2019) and the essay collection The Distance From Slaughter County: Lessons From Flyover Country (University of North Carolina Press, 2023). He is the recipient of the AWP Award for Creative Nonfiction and The Normal School’s Bradley & Stuckey-French Prize for the Essay. He holds an MFA in nonfiction writing from Oregon State University and lives in Portland, Oregon.

Abby E. Murray is the editor of Collateral, a literary journal concerned with the impact of violent conflict and military service beyond the combat zone. Her book, Hail and Farewell, won the Perugia Press Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the 2020 Washington State Book Award. She served as the 2019-2021 poet laureate for the city of Tacoma, Washington, and currently teaches rhetoric in military strategy to Army War College fellows at the University of Washington.

Andria Williams is the author of the critically acclaimed debut novel The Longest Night, which earned starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Booklist, and was a 2016 Barnes and Noble Discover New Authors pick and an Amazon Editors' pick for Best Literature & Fiction. Williams received her MFA from the University of Minnesota, and in the years since, as part of an active-duty military family, has lived all over the U.S. Williams and her family currently live in Colorado. Her second novel, The Waiting World (MilSpeak Books, Oct 2023), takes us back to the era just after WWI and explores the seedy underworld of an American business tycoon and that of his two Irish servant girls and their chauffeur-friend who are intent on forging a life on their terms, no matter the risks.


Engage with your favorite writers and discover your next read.

The Veterans Resources at the Bridge supports the veteran community with information and assistance for veterans and their families. For more information, please visit sfpl.org/veterans

This program is sponsored by Friends of the San Francisco Public Library.

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