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University of Iowa News Release


Dec. 11, 2009

Veterans invited to free UI Midwest Writers Workshop Jan. 15-17

Emma Rainey has read one too many articles about soldiers who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and decided to take their own lives.

To help veterans give voice to their experiences, the University of Iowa Veterans Center and the UI Division of Continuing Education are co-sponsoring a free UI Vets Midwestern Writing Workshop Jan. 15-17 in the UI Distance Learning Site on the second floor of the U.S. Bank building at 30 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City.

The workshop is open to all current and former military personnel, regardless whether they're connected to the university. No previous writing experience is required.

Given the international literary reputation of the UI, Rainey said the workshop is an excellent opportunity for veterans to learn from UI faculty, poets and nonfiction writers.

"My goal is to offer vets a venue to begin exploring their war experiences and find their voices in the process," said Rainey, a May 2009 graduate of the UI Nonfiction Writing Program who will co-facilitate the workshop with John Mikelson, veteran's advisor with the UI Veterans Center.

Rainey said one out of every five U.S. soldiers engaged in combat experiences PTSD, an anxiety syndrome whose sufferers may re-experience the trauma of war for weeks, months and years despite no longer being in physical danger.

"Often soldiers are reluctant to verbally express the disturbing effects of PTSD due to the existing, unspoken stigma to preserve a fearless demeanor at all times," she said. "The result of this avoidance paradigm may include a dismantling of emotional stability ranging from flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, hyperarousal symptoms and suicide."

She said the workshop would help veterans learn how to tell their stories in compelling and creative ways and offer a catharsis for dealing with traumatic or painful events, and an outlet for positive and happy experiences.

"By using writing exercises to explore wartime experiences -- the fear, the boredom, anxieties, thrills, brutality and tears -- we learn how to write a story and make it compelling," said Rainey, who is also an adjunct professor of English at Iowa Wesleyan College. "Workshop participants will explore the many approaches one can take to writing about the self and will produce personal stories by the end of the weekend."

This is a deeply personal issue for Rainey, who grew up in a military family and moved every year of her young life. She also followed with interest her younger sister's military career.

"Frankly, military personnel are not encouraged to voice their experiences," she said. "Thus, they end up trapped in silence. A sort of machismo façade is created in order to survive."

Through writing, she said veterans can learn to express those feelings instead of internalizing them.

"Transformation through the imagination, that's what I call this writing process. It's naturally healing," said Rainey, who has faced her own share of life challenges. "Attending UI's nonfiction workshop and writing about tragedies in my own life offered me so much help as far as taking responsibility and becoming a reliable narrator as opposed to a victim blaming everyone else."

She said the workshop's primary aim isn't to generate work of high literary quality. Rather, it's a tool to help veterans write about feelings, clarify nebulous thoughts and reflect on events in a way that may lead to greater insight.

"It has been proven in research that the act of writing and revision, not the quality of what is produced, helps the soldier develop healthy coping strategies," she said.

Class size is limited to the first 50 registrants, so Rainey encourages interested individuals to sign up as soon as possible. Though free, registration is required by visiting

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

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

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