Veteran Women’s Voices supports women military veterans in California in developing the writing skills and confidence to express their unique experiences with a community of compassionate peers, and over time, to add their voices to the emerging literature of women who serve in the military.
Established in 2016, Veteran Women’s Voices (VWV) is an offshoot of the nationally recognized Veteran Writers Group established more than 25 years ago by Maxine Hong Kingston (Woman Warrior). As a writer, activist, and teacher, Hong Kingston recognized the power of writing, of telling one’s story, in transcending difficult experiences, and of the necessity of community and witness in healing both individuals and society. “Tell the truth,” she states, “and so make peace.”
Veteran Women’s Voices was inspired by the demonstrated success of Hong-Kingston’s work. VWV recognizes that women’s military experience differs greatly from men’s. Now 14% of the military, women tend to self-censor in mixed-gender venues; upon return to civilian life, they often hide their military experience. This and issues unique to women veterans, such as Military Sexual Trauma, make it essential that they be allowed to start their writing journeys in a women-only setting.
Over the past three decades, there has been a great deal of attention paid to the impact of ongoing expressive writing on overcoming trauma. The women veterans who have participated in VWV often have come home from military service having had highly impactful experiences that they have not shared, that go underground. If their family and friends are civilians, they often (rightfully) expect that people won’t understand what their service-time entailed, and when that experience is troubled, holding the story inside creates stress, illness and alienation. We hold that in addition to writing, sharing this work in community is a critical component to the effectiveness of writing as a tool to reintegration into a civilian world.
Over time, through both activities, we have seen the development of talented and committed writers, and the opening up of complex lives and experiences in powerful narrative and poetry. Most of the women who come to VWV say in their applications and introductions, “I’m not a writer, but I have a story to tell.”
While the number of women authors self-identifying as veterans, and writing their military stories is increasing, theirs is still a minimal slice of literature about war and the military. Our hope is, over time, to support women veterans to emerge from this supportive community to add their voices to the emerging literature and to lead other women in doing so as well.