Photos by Michael Patton // Staff Photographer
A group of roughly 10 people with one very prominent connection meet in a small room in Peck Hall. Their purpose? To help each other better tell their complex, yet important, stories.
The Writers Corps brings together veterans and others with close ties to the military to discuss pieces they write and bring to the meeting. The writer gets the chance to read their piece aloud, and then, after a moment of silent reflection from the group, receive helpful feedback.
While some write about their time in the service, most talk about the struggles that they and their families faced and continue to face after their return home, such as PTSD and mental illness.
“Obviously there are some people who come in here and view it as being ‘writing as therapy,’” says MTSU English professor Dr. Matt Brown, who founded the organization in 2009. “We don’t bill it like that, although obviously writing, whether you have trauma or not, is always therapeutic.”
Though Brown has never served in the military himself, it impacted him at an early age. He grew up in a small town where the only escape seemed to be joining the military.
Many of the people he graduated from high school with, a few months before 9/11, enlisted, and he attributes part of his desire to start the Writers Corps to a feeling of “survivor’s guilt.”
“Everybody I grew up with, who was set to try to do something better, went in,” says Brown. “All these people who I knew really well had gone and done this stuff, and I had not.”
Though the writing is a big part of it, Brown wouldn’t necessarily refer to the group as a workshop, as the benefits of it are up to the members.
“The official name we use for it is a ‘community literacy program,’” says Brown. “One reason we do that is because with this group, it’s just as important to me that the people in the group get what they want to get out of it.”
One of the group’s members, Spencer Johnston, a former student at MTSU, has gotten a lot out of the group since joining four years ago while taking one of Brown’s classes.
“Writing itself is a big thing of what I’ve learned here,” he says. “I couldn’t put two sentences together before I got in here and now I’m writing somewhat good poetry.”
Johnston, who has served with the Tennessee National Guard for nine years, has gotten more out of the group than just good writing skills, though. He’s also gained a sense of comradery.
“Walking around campus as a veteran can be kind of tragic in a way, you know,” he says. “It’s nice having a group of other veterans on campus that you can come and just leave that stuff at the door and have real conversations and conversations that matter with and help other veterans kind of get through what they’re dealing with.”
That comradery is obvious from the very start of the meeting. While the official start time is 5 p.m., the meeting doesn’t actually begin until around 20 minutes after everyone is done checking in with each other.
The members of the Writers Corps also get the opportunity to have their work published in DMZ, a journal created by Brown specifically to showcase the Corps writing each year. Many of them have also performed their pieces in front of an audience at various venues like the Frist and events like the Corps’ annual journal release party.
While the members of the Writers Corps are brought together because of their connections to the military, their connection goes much deeper. When asked what he’s most proud of when it comes to the Corps, Dr. Brown’s answer came quite easily.
“The familial bond that develops,” he says. “To me, that’s something that was unexpected but has meant the most.”
To learn more about the Writers Corps, visit their website at WriterCorps.org.