After receiving hundreds of responses to its call for returning soldiers to write about their recent war experiences, the National Endowment for the Arts has decided to extend its Operation Homecoming initiative.
The program to create an anthology of writing from veterans deployed overseas since Sept. 11, 2001, was announced last spring. Yesterday NEA chairman Dana Gioia said the program will be extended three months and the agency plans to conduct writing workshops at 20 bases, instead of the 10 to 12 originally planned.
"The program has been an overwhelming success. I don't think the NEA fully appreciated the need and demand for the program when we first launched it," Gioia said. "We have doubled the size of the program."
The expansion will give participants until March 31 to submit their writings, which can be fiction, verse, essays, journals and memoirs. An anthology will be published in early 2006.
The NEA is expected to announce today that Andrew Carroll has been appointed editor of the forthcoming anthology. Carroll, 35, is the Washington-based editor of the critically acclaimed "War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence From American Wars" and "Letters of a Nation." He is director of the Legacy Project, a national effort to get Americans to preserve wartime letters, and now, e-mails.
"Andrew Carroll is a terrific person in the general literary sense and for the specifics of this project," Gioia said.
Carroll said his involvement with wartime writing fueled his enthusiasm for eyewitness accounts. "These young men and women are so modest. They say, 'I am just doing my job,' but their job is so much more important than those who are sitting behind the desk," Carroll said. The themes he has found are universal. "It transcends war. It is about passion, faith, fear and resilience."
Carroll is not accepting payment for his work. "This is a labor of love; my response was this can be my contribution" to helping those who have served in the war, Carroll said. Boeing Co. has given $452,900 to the Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience initiative.
The NEA is holding workshops on military bases with well-known writers such as poet Marilyn Nelson and author Tom Clancy. "It confirmed everything I had read. These folks are in the front row of history," Carroll said. "They have that fresh, raw energy, whether it is about the military or human nature. Everyone has a different story, different outlook and different experience," he said.
Carroll said no point of view would be excluded. "I use the gut test. Does it draw you in? Does it have an authentic voice? Does it reveal something you hadn't thought about, and does it have a spark of poetry? Do you put it down and think about it? The panel will decide."
Guidelines for submitting work to Operation Homecoming are at www.operationhomecoming.org.