A new chapter for war stories

Senior Joe Mancinik has attended plenty of writing workshops to help fulfill his dream of becoming a novelist. But it wasn’t until last year, when the former Navy service member attended a seminar in D.C. for fellow veterans, that his past and future clicked.

The University Writing Program will encourage more veterans to share their stories through a new partnership with the founder of the Veterans Writing Project, the nonprofit that sponsored the workshop Mancinik attended, that will launch a permanent semester-long course next fall, the writing program’s interim director Derek Malone-France said last week.

“What struck me immediately were the other participants. I was used to workshopping with other students, but now I was hearing again the same language that I heard while serving,” Mancinik said. “The same stories of war and dealing with the scars.”

With a series of veterans writing seminars offered last November and December and planned for this March, the University will make the program a fixture on the Mount Vernon Campus after securing a donation in December from Joanne Patton, a Mount Vernon College alumna and the widow of Maj. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. The specific gift total is not yet finalized, Malone-France said, and Patton could not be reached for comment.

“We need to highlight to these voices at GW,” Malone-France said. “We hope our program partnership can be seen as a national model for how military officials should be heard and importantly represented.”

Retired Lt. Col. Ron Capps, founder of the Veterans Writing Project, will be hired to teach the course, Malone-France said, adding that he expects 10 to 20 students to join the class.

Capps drew inspiration for the project from his own 25 years as an Army officer, coming out with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Darfur, Iraq and Afghanistan. For him, and for other veterans who work with the nonprofit, writing has proven therapeutic.

“We want to focus on the literary aspirations of students and to ultimately form artwork,” Capps said. “I have been in the same place as some of the returning war veterans, and I know they have a story to tell.”

Capps pitched the partnership to other universities in the area, he said, but GW was most interested.

“The [Veterans Writing Project] is different in several ways from other writing programs because the writing we do helps us shape the memory of the project participants,” Capps said. “It’s hugely gratifying to see the men and women we’ve taught, coached and encouraged share their stories.”

GW maintains a large population of student-veterans, with more than 700 receiving financial aid through the Yellow Ribbon Program. The University is frequently mentioned as one of the most military-friendly institutions in the country for its strong veteran support system.

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