Veterans Speak Out
In one brief tale, a war veteran tells of having come home, going to a movie with a date and having a horrible flashback during the film. He exits the theater, and his date joins him, only to chastise him and call him a wimp.
This is just one story of many shared by a veteran. But for Margaret Bellafiore, an adjunct faculty member in BSU’s art department, it is powerful and revealing. Since 2008, when she discovered there were students on campus who were veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, she has been interested in telling their stories.
“I realized that this was very interesting material for an artist to explore: What was their transition like from coming back from deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan and coming onto a college campus?” she wondered. Since then she has published an article called “Combat to Campus, the Voices of Veterans,” and has had exhibits on campus and in Boston to help share their stories.
In the fall, she began a class called “Art as Activism,” which delves into a genre known as “socially engaged art.” With the encouragement of campus chaplain Marlene DeLeon, she formed a collaborative between faculty, veterans, other artists and the Boston chapter of Warrior Writers, a veterans group that encourages vets to write their stories as a way of healing. At these sessions, veterans have the opportunity to share what they wrote by reading it out loud.
On Saturday, March 29, a Vets Speak project will be held in which veterans, students and faculty are invited to gather more stories from veterans. Rachel McNeill of Warrior Writers will facilitate this all-day writing workshop.
The March 29 event will be the third related to the veterans project. In February and early March, led by Bellafiore and artists Catherine Tutter and Cheyenne McCarter, of Spin a Yarn Weave a Life, students have collected 14 veterans' stories. Since art is often perceived as a visual medium, the group transcribed the stories onto a special paper and used a spinning device to twist them into a form of yarn – fully mindful of the juxtaposition of stories as “yarns.”
“We have been working on what kind of events could we devise that would give the veterans on campus a way to focus on them and create a bridge between the civilians on campus, the non-veterans, and the veterans,” said Ms. Bellafiore. “That's what I found out when I did my initial interviews. They felt they were invisible. And some of them wanted to be. But there was such a disconnect. So many students didn't even know there were veterans on campus, and that's still true today.”
Her upcoming classes will help decide what happens with the yarns and how they will be presented. Ultimately, she says, the class project will result in an audio, visual and theatrical presentation Nov. 19-23. Dr. Suzanne Ramczyk, of BSU's Department of Theatre and Dance, will be writing a theatrical piece from the stories to be presented in November, Bellafiore said.
“We are still collecting stories and trying to figure out how to do it because it's very difficult to get veterans to talk,” Bellafiore said. “They don't really want to talk. This process is painful, although it's very healing to do this writing and the spinning, too. And the Warrior Writers, that's why they do this, that they know this is a healing process.”
The Vets Speak event on March 29, titled “Tell a Story for the Record,” will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Catholic Center, 122 Park Ave. on the BSU campus, and will include a free lunch. The Vets Speak project has received funding from a BSU Promoting Diversity Grant.
For more information, check out the BSU Veterans Facebook page.
Other upcoming events include:
Warrior Writers Writing Workshop: Thursday, April 3, 5 to 7 p.m., Catholic Center. Veterans and BSU alumni in the local towns are invited to learn techniques for composing a story or other written literary piece about some slice of their military service or return to civilian life.
Spin a Yarn, 2nd Session, Monday, April 14, 5-7 p.m., Catholic Center. Artists Catherine Tutter and Cheyenne McCarter will teach students and veterans to create and artistic textile from their writing.
Video or Audio Recordings for Library of Congress Veterans History Project. By appointment throughout the semester or summer, prepare and record a 15 to 30-minute segment that will become part of the special collection in the Library of Congress and BSU's Maxwell Library. Dr. Louise Graham will facilitate these recordings.
Laboratory Theatre, Art Installation, Nov. 19-23, 2014, BSU Campus. An original theatrical piece capturing veterans’ stories, written by Dr. Suzanne Ramczyk and performed by the BSU Laboratory Theater. Artwork by, about or from the military life of our local veterans will be on display. More information can be found at the websites for Spin a Yarn and Warrior Writers. (Story by Steve Ide, University News)