Each year, PLNU brings creative writers and storytellers to campus to share their accomplished works and the inspirations that brought those stories to life. Writer’s Symposium by the Sea is hosted by founder, Dr. Dean Nelson, and aims to inspire readers and writers in all departments with interviews, Q&A sessions and even specialized workshops where published writers provide tips and insight into the writing process.
February 19-23, the symposium has a variety of guests, including New York Times best-selling author Deepak Chopra, Pulitzer Prize winning author Jane Smiley, as well as legendary basketball player and Washington Post columnist Kareem Abdul-Jaabar, author of Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court.
But this year’s symposium has another surprise up its sleeve. Partnering with So Say We All, a non-profit literary and performing arts organization, the event will feature a special workshop February 22 with military veterans, war correspondents and radio hosts who have been to the heart of political, cultural and racial war to share with the world the stories that need to be heard.
“There’s a value in this event for students from all walks of life, whether they’re journalists, creative writers or just people who listen to the radio,” said Justin Hudnall, Executive Director of So Say We All and the panel’s host. “There’s lots of ways people can go about covering risky and dangerous content—We want to show students who are even remotely interested in this field what it takes to bring these truths out to the world.”
Brooke King served in the United States Army and deployed to Iraq in 2006 as a wheeled vehicle mechanic, machine gunner and recovery specialist. As a wife to a fellow veteran and mother to twin boys who were conceived in Iraq, King began writing about her experiences as a way to cope with PTSD. Her work has been published in O-Dark-Thirty; War, Literature, & Arts; Prairie Schooner; the Hudson Whitman Excelsior Press Anthology Retire the Colors; as well as many other publications and literary accolades. Currently teaching war literature at Saint Leo University’s MA Creative Writing Program, King was eager to give back to the community by engaging in conversation about war and conflict.
“I was asked to be a part of this event from a mutual friend,” said King in an email interview. “I feel as though the more we share and discuss matters of conflict, the more the barrier of misunderstanding is broken down. I foremost try to help people gain perspective about what war is like for not only a soldier, but what it does to the occupied country. I think it’s important to realize that we are not the only country effected by the war.”
Another one of the four Conflicted workshop speakers is Jean Guerrero, the Fronteras reporter at KPBS for the investigations desk, covering immigration and U.S./Mexico border issues. She also contributes stories to NPR, PBS and other public media outlets across the country. Guerrero has trekked through mountains with coffee smugglers, opium poppy producers and maize farmers and has gone into the sewers of Tijuana to interview “canal dwellers” stuck between countries. She hopes that through her stories, students will realize the truth is “never black-and-white.”
“Truth is more elusive and complicated than that, and I am extremely passionate about the pursuit of that deeper truth, which ultimately is what makes people care about the stories we tell,” said Guerrero. “One of my favorite authors, the Russian novelist Lev (Leo) Tolstoy, said, ‘Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.’”
Both Guerrero and King say they are most looking forward to the open discussions with audience members in the Q&A session as well as the refreshments gathering following the interviews. This is one of the largest panel events So Say We All has hosted and Hudnall has made sure that a large portion of the segments is dedicated to speaker and audience interaction.
“This is your chance to go right up to these writers and pick their brains,” said Hudnall. “The idea is that we are all a vital part of this large conversation. We’re hoping this event inspires journalists and young writers to go beyond the safety of their own world.”