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Rainey helps veterans find their voices

BY SAMANTHA GENTRY | DECEMBER 05, 2011 7:20 AM

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When Emma Rainey was a graduate student in the University of Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program, she remembers reading articles about soldiers returning from war.

It seemed to her that some soldiers survived the horrors of war only to commit suicide because they couldn't handle the trauma they endured.

"I couldn't bear the fact that soldiers would come back and kill their child or wife and then kill themselves," Rainey said.

She thought that if writing could help with her own life, then maybe it could help the soldiers as well. So, she started a writing workshop called Writing My Way Back Home.

The goal of the workshop is to provide a space for U.S. veterans to write about their wartime experiences in order to heal, to be heard, and to create meaningful expression.

The workshop is not meant to create a work of literary quality but rather offer the writing tools to help the veterans write about their feelings and reflect on certain experiences from war.

"I let the soldiers know how they can get started by making them use the path of writing so they can tell their stories," Rainey said. "Through that, I believe that the therapeutic effects of writing are renowned."

In October, Rainey worked with UI Veterans Center Coordinator John Mikelson to create a workshop for veterans in the Iowa City area.

Because she was living in California, she needed someone in Iowa City to help coordinate a space for the event and contact local writers and interested students.

This is the third workshop Mikelson worked on with Rainey, and he said the people involved were very impressed with the quality of instruction they received.

"[Rainey] is a very caring person, and veterans are very close to her heart," Mikelson said. "She believes everyone has the ability to write, and she wants them to get their story out there. No one really understands what veterans are all about, so if they don't tell their own stories, who is going to know?"

While a student at the UI, Rainey often went to the Writing Center until she eventually became a tutor while teaching Rhetoric classes. She met Carol Severino, the Writing Center director, while teaching a nonfiction workshop.

Severino received the chance to work on Rainey's M.F.A. thesis committee, which included creative writing of personal essays about her relationships with family members and the community.

"[Rainey] is a fantastic writer," Severino said. "Her workshops are such a helpful outlet to veterans, and they produce wonderful work."

Rainey lives in California, where she is working with veterans who are living in a nursing home. The facility is known for working with post-traumatic stress disorder and researching mental health of the soldiers.

Every Friday, she visits the facility and talks with veterans from World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Korean War. She recalls the stories that all of the men have told her.

"To hear a man who can't get over the experience he had at 18 years old gives me the chills," Rainey said. "You can never predict what is going to come out of their mouths."


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