For five years the nonprofit literary journal Line of Advance has organized a writing contest for service members and military veterans in memory of Army officer Darron Wright, who died in a training accident in 2013 — only a year after Osprey published Iraq Full Circle, his personal history of the war.
This year the competition widened and accepted submissions by military family members, with the continued and laudable underwriting by the Blake and Bailey Family Fund.
And this year, all the “best” submissions are in print in Our Best War Stories: Prize-Winning Poetry & Prose from the Col. Darron L. Wright Memorial Awards.
Our Best War Stories collects the entries in one volume of 18 works of prose and 18 poems. The 36 works offer a range of human experience and literary prowess, in different voices and styles — some more distinctive than others. The “Prose” category does not differentiate between fiction or nonfiction, although only one story seems to be nonfiction.
Two of the stories already have publishing pedigrees, an indication of the value of the journal’s recognizing nascent writers — even those who didn’t get to first place. Here is a look at the pair and at some of the other standout content:
War Stories also makes you anticipate more fiction from Maj. Brian Kerg, a Marine who has two works in the collection. “October’s Daughter” (2018, third-place prose) illustrates the personal and professional stress of duty in Afghanistan, with a stunner flashback set at a California beach and with a sense of humor:
“One of the Marines had written ‘Trick or Treat!’ in the top-left corner of the map, and added a crudely drawn penis. This was the art only my tribe could produce.”
Also, hope to see more from Navy spouse Amy Zaranek, whose “Countdown to Deployment” (2020, second-place prose) allows you to empathize with a spouse’s anxiety. “Your mind races on the morning of Day Three, which may now be Day Two or Four or Day 18, and you aren’t sure why you’re keeping track anymore.”
Showing promise too is Travis Klempan, the Naval Academy graduate whose “Rocks for Breakfast” (2018, third-place prose) catches you with an opening line that says To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee is “full of shit.”
Eight of the pieces in the book are by women. Females first crossed the Line in 2019 with Air Force veteran Sarah Maples’ second-place “Good Soldier.” Her poem deftly addresses gender – with irony and a nod to empowerment.
Other poetry in the book is verbally well-powered, including:
Anthology editor Christopher Lyke, fellow Army veteran Matt Marcus, and Army National Guard officer Ryan Quinn started Line as a way to give military writers a place to lean. The book confirms their effort, and the goal of the three wise men is being realized.
Presumably there will be future collections. In them, this reviewer urges Line of Advance to use what’s called a longer (“em”) dash for separating parenthetical phrases rather than this edition’s “en” dash, which can appear to be a hyphen. In the book’s text, words meant to be separated look instead like they are hyphenated.
This point might seem trivial, but punctuation directs reading pace and aids comprehension. The talent published in the anthology is too promising to be distracted by typography.
Our Best War Stories: Prize-Winning Poetry & Prose from the Col. Darron L. Wright Memorial Awards, edited by Christopher Lyke, Middle West Press, 234 pages, $18
J. Ford Huffman has reviewed 400-plus books published during the Iraq and Afghanistan war era, mainly for Military Times, and he received the Military Reporters and Editors (MRE) 2018 award for commentary. He co-edited Marine Corps University Press’ The End of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (2012). When he is not reading a book or editing words or art, he is usually running, albeit slowly. So far: 48 marathons, including 15 Marine Corps races. Not that he keeps count. Huffman serves on the board of Student Veterans of America and the artist council of Armed Services Arts Partnership and has co-edited two ASAP anthologies. As a content and visual editor, he has advised newsrooms from Defense News to Dubai to Delhi and back.