War destroys civilization; literature nourishes it. What to make of the literature of war, then — The Iliad, The Red Badge of Courage, The Things They Carried, Catch-22? It’s a tradition tasked with revealing the best of humanity at its very worst (and, also, the worst of humanity at its very worst). Yesterday, it was poets and war scribes telling the stories; today, soldier-writers are turning the form into a literature of witness.
There’s a high-caliber Black Mountain Institute panel discussion happening tomorrow, “Echoes of Homer: The New Literature of War,” that will consider the war lit tradition in a number of ways: How it’s evolved, what its purpose is, and how it continues to do the work of reconciling beauty and horror.
This should be intense. The panel is moderated by New Yorker staff writer George Packer, author of The Assassins’ Gate: The Iraq War. He’ll talk with a variety of war writers representing a number of approaches and perspectives: Brian Turner, soldier, poet and author of the memoir My Life as a Foreign Country; Siobahn Fallon, author of You Know When the Men Are Gone, a book that captures the perspective of military spouses who face their own battles on the home front; and Phil Klay, a U.S. Marines veteran who served in Iraq as a public affairs officer. His short story collection, Redeployment, won the 2014 National Book Award for fiction.
BMI regularly puts on lively, thought-provoking panels and powerful readings, but this one should be particularly trenchant, timely and compelling. It’s 7p May 5 at UNLV’s Student Union Theatre. Heads up: It’s free, but requires an RSVP due to high interest.