NOVEMBER 18-19
Dare Arts to host Veterans Writing Workshop

By on October 18, 2023

11th annual event slated at CSI on Nov. 18-19

Iraq War Veteran Dario DiBattista will teach this year’s poetry-focused workshop. (Photo credit: Mary Ella Jourdak photography)

The Dare County Arts Council is hosting its eleventh Veterans Writing Workshop on Nov. 18-19 at the UNC Coastal Studies Institute in Wanchese. Over the years, the free workshops have given Veterans, service members and their families the opportunity to learn from nationally recognized writers who are Veterans.

Each year, the writing focus changes. It has included genres such as creative writing, song writing, memoirs, storytelling, and writing for stage and screen. Manteo resident and published author Greg Smrdel, who has participated in multiple workshops over the years, noted that “I think if Veterans have any interest in writing, this is time worth investing in yourself. The instructors have kept it basic for the novice writers, while at the same time allowed more experienced writers to spread their wings and offer up their advice.”

In recent years, the workshop has been full, with all 25 slots filled.

This year’s focus is on poetry taught by Dario DiBattista, an editor and educator who served in the Marines and is a Veteran of the war in Iraq. DiBattista works with the Veterans Writing Project. The national nonprofit offers writing workshops and writing mentorship and the opportunity for work to be produced and published in their literary journal O-Dark-Thirty.

Through the Project, DiBattista has taught thousands of writers. “I studied poetry and nonfiction writing at Johns Hopkins for my master of arts degree, and I have been well published,” he said. “I take great pride and seriousness, though, helping others learn how to tell their own stories.”

DiBattista says he came to writing because “It was my way of healing after surviving two combat tours in the Middle East. Writing helped me reflect on my experiences, recover, and make meaning for my life afterward.”

While the Veterans Writing Project has taken part, with medical professionals, in expressive (therapeutic) writing programs sponsored by the Department of Defense and the National Endowment for the Arts, it does not encourage the participants in the Veterans Writing Workshop to write about their trauma. “Though, of course, the act of writing can be healing and therapeutic in nature, this workshop is not therapy,” said DiBattista.

The idea for the Veterans Writing Project came about when founder, director and curriculum developer Ron Capps was driving home from one of his classes in graduate school at Johns Hopkins in 2011. He was about to graduate from the writing program there and wondering what he was going to do with his education.

“I was using my GI Bill benefits to study there, so I felt like I needed to do something useful,” said Capps who served 25 years in the Army and Army Reserve and is a Veteran of the war in Afghanistan. He ended up spending his last semester creating a curriculum and subsequently testing it out in a series of workshops sponsored by George Washington University in Washington, DC.  The Veterans Writing Project has presented in 26 states and has had more than 3,600 people come through their workshops.

The Dare Arts Veterans Writing Workshop came about as a result of a past board member Barbara St. Armand, A Marine Corp widow, hearing an interview with Capps on National Public Radio on Veterans Day. She invited him to come to Dare County to teach local Veterans.

The free workshop can really give writers a boost, according to DiBattista who has been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and the Washingtonian, to name a few. “Do not spend $40,000 for an MFA [Masters of Fine Arts Degree] just yet,” he says. “I will pay forward the essential knowledge of an education like that for free,” he said.

This is DiBattista’s’ second time heading up one of the workshops at Dare Arts and Jessica Sands, Executive Director of Dare Arts, is glad to have him back.

“Dare Arts believes it’s important for the workshop participants to be able to relate to their instructor, and Dario’s writing experience paired with him being a Veteran makes him a great choice to lead this workshop,” she said.

Sands also says she seen attendees come in as strangers and leave as friends. Smrdel appreciated making a connection with a local writer of fiction while participating. “Without that contact, it’s doubtful that I would have accomplished as much as I have,” he said.

Capps speaks warmly of the Dare County connection. “It is our longest-running partnership and one that I am the most proud of,” he said. “I honestly feel like we’ve been welcomed by the OBX community and that we had some role in uniting the Veteran and civilian communities.


Visit Dare Arts to register or contact dareartsprograms@gmail.com for more information. To connect with the Veterans Writing Project go to veteranswriting.org. To connect with their literary journal, go to O-Dark-Thirty.org.

The Veterans Writing Workshop is sponsored by the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau and is supported by the North Carolina Arts Council and the Veterans Writing Project.



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