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Published: Sunday, 10/10/2010

Writing workshop enlists vets to record wartime memories

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Sixty-two years to be precise. That was in 1948 when the native Toledoan graduated from the University of Toledo, two years after serving with the Army fighting the Nazis in World War II.

The experience was difficult, and Mr. Steinman lost several friends. But when the war was over and he'd finished his college degree, the young man focused his mind on the future, became a traveling salesman, raised a family, and all but forgot about his time on the battlefield.

Until now.

Next month, Mr. Steinman, 84, will brush the dust from his literary skills and put his mind to work on remembering his long-ago war experiences as part of a "Veterans Writing Workshop" sponsored by the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library's Sylvania branch and Lourdes College. The class, to be held weekly from Nov. 1 to Dec. 6, will teach active and retired veterans creative writing techniques so they can record memories about their military days, either for their own benefit or to share with friends and family.

Participants also can participate in the Library of Congress' "Veterans History Project," which collects the personal accounts of American war veterans for posterity.

"This really isn't for people who are already professional writers. We really want to aim at people who don't have a lot of writing experience," said Amy Hartman, adult services librarian at the Sylvania library and one of the organizers of the workshop. "Our goal is to help people get things out of their heads and then whatever they do with the end product is up to them."

Ms. Hartman said the idea for the workshop came out of a conversation she had with her friend and co-organizer Holly Baumgartner, an English professor at Lourdes College. For the past 15 years, Ms. Hartman said, she has been in charge of selecting books about war and history at the library, and she has read many biographies of military personnel who used writing to come to terms with events.

"I've read a lot of these sort of memoirs, and many of the authors have commented on how they found writing about their experiences to be therapeutic," Ms. Hartman said.

"The more I thought about it, the more I thought maybe this is something we can help local people with."

John Small, a counselor at the Toledo Vet Center, agreed that writing can be beneficial for veterans, particularly those suffering from trauma. He said he often asks clients to write about their experiences as part of the counseling process.

"It helps people think about what they went through. When you're doing some writing you have to give it some thought, and you have to think thoroughly about the issues that you went through," Mr. Small said. "Once you write it out its more permanent, and you can review it and think it over."

But the workshop is not just a therapeutic exercise. By recording their individual experiences, veterans can help build a more accurate picture of war and add to the understanding of history for future generations.

"The thing about history is that so much is interpretation," Ms. Hartman said. "The more people we can get who were actually there to contribute first-hand accounts, I think that's always a benefit."

Mr. Steinman isn't exactly sure what he'll write about yet. But the veteran is looking forward to stimulating his mind by taking a class again and perhaps producing something his two daughters and five grandchildren can learn from.

"You know, your memory does fail," said Mr. Steinman, who lives in Sylvania. "This may bring back some memories, and I suppose my kids would like to see them if I can put it down in some rational form. They'd like to see them, I'm sure."

The six-week Veterans Writing Workshop is free and runs each Monday night, Nov. 1 through Dec. 6 from 6 to 8 p.m. The first three Mondays will be at the WIN Center of Lourdes College, 6832 Convent Blvd., Sylvania. The last three will be held at the Sylvania branch library, 6749 Monroe St. in Sylvania. Call the library at 419-882-2089 to register.

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at:

cbarrett@theblade.com

or 419-724-6272.



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