In the Spotlight
Founder and Director, The Veterans Writing Project
Washington, DC Member Since: 2006
About: Ron Capps is the founder and director of the Veterans Writing Project, a 501(c) 3 that provides no-cost writing workshops for veterans and their families. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Policy, The American Interest, and many other journals and magazines. His memoir, Seriously Not All Right: Five Wars in Ten Years, was published in 2014 by Schaffner Press.
Photo credit: Robert Turtil
What is the Veterans Writing Project’s mission?
To provide no-cost writing workshops and seminars to veterans, service members, and their families, and to publish their writing in our literary journal.
How does your organization work on behalf of its members, constituents, or clients?
All of our instructors are working writers who have graduate writing degrees (MA or MFA) and who are veterans. Everyone on our staff—even our Board of Directors—is either a veteran or a family member. We provide all of our work—creative and therapeutic workshops, and publishing—at no cost to participants. We will travel wherever we are invited, and will work with partners to bring our programs to veterans.
What programs would you like to develop and create for your organization?
We would love to have a physical venue to work from. Given sufficient funding, we would create two settings: one urban and one rural. These would be places where we may teach, where writers may come and work in residence, and where we may hold readings and other events. One of these would likely be our office where we would publish our journal, O-Dark-Thirty. We’ve also had a few opportunities to run week-long workshops; we’d love to do more of that.
Since its inception, what are some of the proudest accomplishments of your organization?
Seeing veterans who have struggled to communicate use writing to break through and get their story out in front of an audience—whether that audience is one family member or the entire readership of our literary journal.
What is the biggest challenge you face in promoting writing?
No question: Funding. We have plenty of opportunities to take our writing seminars around the country, but we need sponsorship to do so. We would like to give away thousands of copies of our print journal, but it's hugely expensive to do so. We want to bring veterans to our workshops, but travel and lodging costs are prohibitive.
What is the importance, for you, of having partnerships in the literary community and with other nonprofits?
Everything for us is built on partnerships. We’ve worked with big national organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts, the Association of the United States Army, and the Wounded Warrior Project. We’ve also worked with government entities like the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs, state and local arts and humanities commissions, colleges and universities, book fairs, public libraries, and other non-profits like the Wilderness Society. We have to use the Blanche DuBois School of Fundraising: we rely on the kindness of strangers.
What does your office look like?
Well, we have a virtual office: our global headquarters is my attic office. All of our instructors and editors work from their homes. Personally, my office has a desk and chair, a small sitting area with a rocking chair, and a small table. Oh, and there are dog beds everywhere.
Who encouraged you to be a writer?
I wrote for my day job as a soldier and Foreign Service officer. Once I left government service, I kept writing, but for a different audience. I needed to write as a way of controlling my post-traumatic stress disorder. In many ways, I wrote my way home from war.
If you could meet any writer, who would it be? What would you say to him or her?
I would like to meet Ford Madox Ford and Virginia Woolf and talk to them about dialogue. I’d like to talk about memoir and autobiografiction with Siegfried Sassoon. I’d love to talk about the 1960s with Tom Wolfe and Susan Sontag. I’d probably not be able to speak in front of Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Wolfe, or F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Would you like to share a project you are currently working on?
Sure. My next book is a novel that takes place in Sudan in 1916. The world is at war, and the British have a recalcitrant Ali Dinar, the Sultan of Darfur, on their border. Ali Dinar sides with the Ottomans, who are at war with the British. A British general mounts a campaign that is only loosely approved by his political leaders in order to overthrow Ali Dinar. These are the historical facts; into this I throw some fictional characters, and off we go. The war changes everything, of course, and I’m exploring why and how it does this, but also looking at the after-effects of war on human beings from vastly different cultures.
What is the greatest compliment that you could ever receive about your writing?
The best thing I’ve ever been told about my writing is that I gave someone hope. My memoir is partly the story of how I got to a point where I was ready to take my own life. I served in five wars in a ten-year period. During the last of those wars, I was suicidal. I tell that story in the memoir. But the more important story is what I did afterwards: how I used writing to find my way home, and I founded the Veterans Writing Project to help others do the same thing.
What is your favorite AWP Conference Memory?
Every single time someone stops at our table to ask, “What do you guys do?” It’s a chance to tell our story and to share our work. I love it.