September 15, 2019
Veterans group encourages use of art to explain ‘heavy stuff’
Story by Carmen Gentile / Photo via Kevin Basl
After two tours in Iraq, Kevin Basl was looking for something to do with the rest of his life.
He landed back in school, where he earned a master’s degree in fine arts at Temple University in Philadelphia and honed his skills as a writer.
After graduating, he knew he wanted to write for a living, but he wasn’t sure where to begin.
Now 37, Basl discovered Warrior Writers, a group for veterans and active duty service people to come together and express themselves in words, dance, and other forms of artistry.
Based in Philadelphia, though with national outreach, Warrior Writers is the brainchild of Lovella Calica, a writer who feels a special connection to the veteran community despite never serving herself.
“I’d been working with vets for a few years [before founding Warrior Writers], and I’m a writer myself, so I knew that writing helped me get through my own trauma,” said Calica, 38, who used writing to overcome childhood sexual abuse.
“I started Warriors Writers in 2007 with the idea of creating safe space for veterans to come together to write and to use writing and art as a way to process and reflect and heal and build a community,” she said.
Warrior Writers has published anthologies of writing and put on performances at venues like the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia.
The group, which also offers writing workshops and weekend retreats, currently boasts about 40 veterans with varying artistic ambitions.
Some members, like Basl, have gone on to publish in other outlets, often delving into their own struggles to reassimilate into the civilian world and deal with the traumas they experienced on the battlefield.
“Like many veterans, I didn’t know how to talk about war when I came home,” Basl wrote in a recent essay for Truthout. “People wanted to thank me for my service but they didn’t want to hear how disillusioned I had become with my country.”
His is a common experience for veterans, Calica noted. “Not everyone in the general public is ready to hear that,” she said. “If you are sitting down to write about this heavy stuff, it’s comforting to know that others went through the same thing.”
Basl agrees. “[At first] I wasn’t interested in writing as a form of therapy, but Warrior Writers got me connected to a community,” he said, adding that the program helped him not only find his voice but served as a jumping off point for his career as a writer.
“I’ve been able to eke out a living at this after getting connected to Warrior Writers.”
If you’re a veteran with artistic ambitions or interest in volunteering — or if you’re someone who wants to help veterans — contact Warrior Writers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out their website and read more at warriorwriters.org.
Carmen Gentile has worked for The New York Times and CBS News, among others. His book, "Blindsided by the Taliban," documents his life as a war reporter and the aftermath of his brush with death after being shot with a rocket-propelled grenade while embedded with U.S. Army forces in Afghanistan.