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University of Iowa News Release


Sept. 22, 2011

Veterans may register for free UI writing workshop Oct. 14-16

raineyThe day after Emma Rainey (right) finished organizing and teaching a writing workshop for veterans in 2010, she received a letter from her father -- a U.S. naval officer during the Korean War -- describing a war trauma he suffered but had never mentioned to anyone in the family.

"The irony did not escape me," said Rainey. "I barely understood my passion to help veterans. Mostly I was driven by news reports of returning veterans committing suicide and knew writing could help. To discover my father had suffered an ungodly trauma -- and never mentioned it until now -- sent me reeling."

The University of Iowa Veterans Center is sponsoring its second free weekend workshop for U.S. military personnel titled "Writing My Way Back Home." The workshop will be Oct. 14-16, in the UI Communications Center, 116 S. Madison St. in Iowa City. No writing experience is needed to attend this workshop.

mikelson"The workshop's primary aim is not to generate work of literary quality, although this may happen and certainly did in our first workshop," said Rainey, a 2009 graduate of the UI Nonfiction Writing Program who is currently living in Fairfax, Calif., and will co-facilitate the workshop once again with John Mikelson (left), UI Veterans Center coordinator. "The workshop begins the powerful process for veterans to write their stories and reflect on events they experienced in war in a way that may lead to greater insight, creativity and healing."

Writers from UI's Nonfiction Writing Program, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, poets, a playwright and a songwriter have volunteered to teach along with former veterans. Mikelson is also a UI alumnus who earned a bachelor's degree in history from the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2007 and a master's degree in educational policy and leadership studies from the UI College of Education in 2008.

Class size for "Writing My Way Back Home" is limited to the first 40 veterans who register. Thus far, nine veterans have registered. Mikelson encourages interested individuals to sign up immediately, and though the workshop is free, registration is required by visiting: The workshop is open to all current and former military personnel, regardless whether they were in combat.

Lunch will be provided for the veterans during the Saturday and Sunday workshops. Last year Bread Garden and Hy-Vee generously donated lunches.

"Eating together—the vets and writers and volunteer therapists—helped deepen the bond in the writing community during the weekend," Rainey said.

workshop"Our first workshop was full of surprises," she added. "First, half the veterans were women. I didn't expect that. Also, I was overwhelmed by the determination of disabled vets to journey to Iowa City -- a blind vet flew in from Minneapolis and a paraplegic took the Greyhound Bus from Chicago -- to write their stories. But what struck me most of all was the camaraderie. It didn't matter which branch of service, age, rank or war had been fought. The veterans were just glad to be together."

Last year Rainey and Mikelson noted the many veterans who emailed wishing they could participate, but traveling to Iowa proved impossible. Rainey is finishing the application process for non-profit status to conduct writing workshops throughout the United States. The name "Writing My Way Back Home" came from correspondence with John Lavelle, a Vietnam vet from Bettendorf.

"John used the expression: 'writing my way home' in our email communications," Rainey said. "This phrase was an ideal metaphor for what the vet faces when returning stateside, as well as how they must reconnect -- and come home -- to themselves. So when it was time incorporate and fill in the name of our organization, John Lavelle gladly gave his permission to use it."

Mikelson is setting aside a time slot for veterans to read their work during this year's Veterans Reception on Nov. 9 at the Old Capitol Centre.

"The one component missing from our last workshop," Rainey said, "was a venue for the veterans to read their writing to civilians. It's a transformative experience, both for the vet and the audience, to hear and understand the warrior's experience. It's part of the healing process for the vet and the civilians."

For more information or special accommodations to participate in the workshop, contact Mikelson at 319-384-2020 or or Rainey at 641-919-2654 or or visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: John Mikelson, UI Veterans Center, 319-384-2020,; or Emma Rainey, 641-919-2654,; Lois Gray, University News Services, 319-384-0077,

Photo: Stephanie Griest, a UI MFA student in the non-fiction writing program, leads a session during the first UI Vets Midwestern Writing Workshop, co-sponsored by the UI Veterans Center and the UI Division of Continuing Education in 2010. Photo by John Riehl.