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Veterans Bridge Gap With Brooklyn Civilians Through Literary Group

By Meredith Hoffman | October 31, 2013 9:26am
 Matt Gallagher, an author and Iraq veteran, teaches writing workshops in Bushwick and will be on a panel this weekend about addressing war and its after-effects in literature.
Matt Gallagher, an author and Iraq veteran, teaches writing workshops in Bushwick and will be on a panel this weekend about addressing war and its after-effects in literature.
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Matt Gallagher

WILLIAMSBURG — When U.S. Navy veteran Brandon Willitts moved to the city last year, he was the first vet many of his friends here met — but he was one of countless writers.

And Willitts, 30, who served in the intelligence unit 2001-2006 and was deployed to Afghanistan 2004-2005, wanted to bridge New York's military-civilian gap. So he turned to literature.

This spring Willitts founded the non-profit Words After War, which holds writing workshops for both veterans and civilians at Bushwick's Mellow Pages Library.

"We're looking at war and its after-effects from a very literary perspective," said Willitts, who discovered his own love of creative writing in a workshop with his friend Mike McGrath (who co-founded Words After War) several years ago. "We’re trying to move beyond the combat narrative about war and become more thoughtful about it."

And this weekend his organization is holding its first public event, a panel with both veteran and civilian authors who address war.

"It’s a way for us to bring high quality writers to a community of literary people who are disconnected to the military experience," said Willitts of the panel at Williamsburg's Acme Studios. "We can't ask civilians to come to the Jets games to drink beers with us, so we thought, 'what if we got them to come and to talk about books?'"

The panel — moderated by NPR News correspondent Quil Lawrence — includes former Army officer Matt Gallagher, who wrote the memoir "Kaboom" about his experiences in Iraq and teaches Words After War's weekly writing workshops.

The panel also features Iraq veteran Brian Castner, who wrote the book "Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows," and civilian author Katey Schultz, who wrote "Flashes of War: Short Stories." 

"Our mission is to provide veterans and civilians high quality literary programming," Willitts said, "and to change the national conversation."

The panel is Nov. 2 at 4 p.m. at Acme Studio on 63 N. 3rd St. Tickets can be bought on the event's website.