Veterans share stories they wrote, recorded through federal arts grant

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Veterans gather in Central Texas Monday to debut stories they wrote, recorded and edited with the help of two groups participating in the Creative Forces program through the Military Healing Arts Network.

The initiative, sponsored through grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, encourages service members to share their experiences through writing and other creative outlets.

“Using the arts, they can create a new community as an artist,” said April Sullivan, artworks director at VSA Texas — one of the two groups that have held workshops for vets to teach new communication skills.

Texas Folklife, the other organization to get the grant, hosted audio workshops to teach veterans interviewing techniques and sound editing.

Vanessa Morgan went to one of those workshops last month, where she recorded some of her experiences as an Army reservist during the Cold War in the 1980s.

Most of her stories are positive ones, like spending a year learning Russian as a linguist in California. She wants to share those along with friends’ and relatives’ stories.

“As folks are getting older, my mom and my uncle,” she said, “I want to make sure that we don’t lose that history that was so secret during the Cold War, and even during Laos and Vietnam.”

“Case in point, my uncle was killed in Laos, and for years it was sort of a classified situation. And now there are books being published, but my family never really talked about it.”

Texas Folklife and VSA Texas are trying to tap into the healing power of storytelling, the power of talking about what happened in a way that re-frames the experience.

“If you haven’t served in the military, you might not know those stories or what they’ve been through or even kind of their view on the world,” said Texas Folklife executive director Charlie Lockwood. “And I think what we’re all about is sharing stories as a way of creating empathy and understanding with each other.”

Both groups mainly work in central Texas right now, splitting their time between Austin and Temple, where a large military community exists because of its proximity to Fort Hood.

“We would like to definitely expand that to farther across Texas to serve our veterans in Houston, south Texas, Dallas,” Sullivan said.

Morgan plans to use what she learned at the workshop to continue to record and publish her family’s stories.

“Thanksgiving’s coming up, and my family will be here,” she said. “It’ll be a perfect opportunity to test out my new skills.”

The stories will debut at a listening event in Temple Monday night from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Texas Folklife will also put the audio stories online, and VSA Texas will publish a collection of short stories and poems.

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