Wartime experience and literature merge in writers’ conference

An annual event that has occurred since the fall of 1976 has come together once again. The 38th annual Great Plains Writers’ Conference took place March 23-25 in The Union.

The conference featured five presenters including Brian Turner, David Abrams, Ron Capps, Patrick Hicks and Katey Schultz. The theme of this year’s conference was “Coming Home: War, Healing, and American Culture. “

“One of my goals is to try to help make South Dakota State a place where people gather to talk about things, so we’re pulling people in who are going to have conversations that they might not have been able to have otherwise,” said Steven Wingate, coordinator of the Great Plains Writers’ Conference. 

Wingate said they considered many people, several of whom are veterans. They looked at people who were active in fields and had something to say. This year, they have two military themed writers. 

“The effect of war is not something that belongs to only the people who have served, it’s something that’s larger and the entire society shares,” Wingate said. 

Schultz, author of Flashes of War, spoke on Tuesday, March 25 to a large audience. Schultz’ book is fictional and has been chosen by the United States Air Force Academy as a required reading for the freshman in the academy. 

Schultz described her book as a collection of flash fiction stories, which are around 250 to 750 words. She said that she started on a micro level. Schultz has not been in the military nor came from a military family. 

“The military has its own language,” Schultz said. “It’s fun for me to play with the words, while realizing there is an emotional weight with them as well.”

Her stories, according to Schultz, came to her through images. Wherever she would go, she would hang up many pictures of soldiers and war related images. 

Even though Schultz stories are all fictional, they still relay a description and a glance at the various aspects of war and the outcomes it can create. 

“It forced me to get as real and precise as possible even though they are fictional,” Schultz said. 

Hicks, another presenter at the conference, spoke on Monday, March 24. His presentation was called “A long Shadow: The Great War at 100.” His presentation focused on the Great War, commonly known as World War I. 

“I find it very frustrating that we send a professional army to war and we don’t pay attention,” Hicks said. 

Hicks continued to give a quiz to the audience that asked several questions that included: when did the U.S. join World War I and what was the deadliest type of poison gas in World War I. 

After providing the answers and a short description along with, Hicks accepted questions from the audience. One audience member asked Hicks if he feels it was necessary to have World War I. 

“My feeling is if the archduke had not been assassinated, there would have been another spark. All of these countries were itching for war, it was almost inevitable,” Hicks said. 

Along with these two presentations, there were several other events that took place all day long both Monday and Tuesday. On Sunday, March 23, the conference officially began in the South Dakota Art Museum that included remarks by Larry Zimmerman, South Dakota Secretary of Veterans Affairs and a screening of the documentary Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience. 

Starting at 9 a.m. on Monday morning with a reading and writing the American Indian Military Experience with Francis, Colin and Brendan Whitebird, the day ended with a reading and conversation at 7 p.m. with Hicks and David Abrams including a reception. 

Tuesday also began at 9 a.m. with a film followed by several presenters throughout the day. There was also a writing session at 3 p.m. The conference concluded in the Performing Arts Center with Brian Turner speaking at 7:30 p.m. followed by a reception. 

Wingate said Jason McEntee, English department head and Chuck Woodard, a distinguished professor were both involved in “the intersection between literature and war experience.” 

“As long as we’ve had war, we’ve had people coming home from war,” Wingate said. “… It’s a natural fit for use to have a program like this.”