Austin Peay State University (APSU)
Clarksville, TN – After Ellen Taylor walked into the room, she nudged her desk slightly to face the center of the classroom. The move, whether conscious or unconscious, signaled something intrinsic to the class that was about to start.
Taylor was ready to share. Her classmates were ready to share.
The class – Writing for Military and Families – serves active-duty and veteran military personnel and their families and offers them a chance to write about their lives. The writing fosters self-expression and healing.
Austin Peay State University’s Community School for the Arts has offered the class for free – backed by a Tennessee Arts Commission grant – in two sessions this year. Both sessions filled quickly and had waiting lists.
“I think it’s a great opportunity and a great service to our veteran population,” Taylor, spouse of a U.S. Army pilot who retired in 1990, said. “It serves this area really well, and I hope more people take advantage of it.”
Author and publisher Shana Thornton, a beloved member of the Clarksville writing community, teaches the class.
“What we’ve been doing in the class, first of all, is talking about combat and war, but also how that translates into literature, how to use experience to create fiction and nonfiction,” Thornton said. “It was always something that I wanted to teach.”
‘Every Moment Is Meaningful’
The first eight-week session filled quickly with veterans and veterans’ spouses. Some of the class members have established works while others are starting their writing journey. Some write fiction. Some write nonfiction. Some write poetry.
“Most of the writing is military-related, but not all,” Thornton said. “The cool thing is we have really great discussions because everybody is a little different. Everybody is willing to give feedback, willing to help each other.”
“It was an opportunity to not only work on my piece but listen to other veterans, listen to their story, listen to where they’re at on their journey of writing it, and then share, to grow from it,” he said. “I like the intensity of it. Every moment of the session is meaningful.”
Thornton revisited the theme during class: “That’s why we want to write our experiences down, because it validates them in some way. It creates a mark. It feels strong. It feels final.”
Extending The Class
Because the class sessions in the first eight weeks sometimes spilled over into a second hour, some of the class members asked for an extension with longer classes. The Community School for the Arts, which is run by the Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts, obliged.
“You find a lot of truth in fiction, and I believe in it,” Jeff Bagley, a 28-year Army veteran and retired Apache helicopter pilot, said. “I think we need those stories, and I want to write one. I’m floored that someone contributed to make this class available at no cost to veterans and their families.”
The recipient agencies are Cumberland Winds, Clarksville Community Concerts Association, Shipley Pottery, Arts for Hearts, After Deployment and the APSU Community School of the Arts, which is run by the APSU Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts (CECA).
- For more about the Community School for the Arts, visit www.apsu.edu/ceca/csa.php.
- For more about the Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts, go to www.apsu.edu/ceca/.
- For more about the Clarksville-Montgomery County Arts and Heritage Development Council, visit www.artsandheritage.us/.
- For more about the Tennessee Arts Commission, go to http://tnartscommission.org/.