Phil Klay, U.S. Marine Corps veteran who won the 2014 National Book Award for “Redeployment,” discussed his balance between being a veteran and writer in his presentation at K-State on October 1, 2014.
“I have a pretty unusual job for a veteran,” Klay said. “A lot of the vets I know are men of action.”
Klay, a graduate of Dartmouth College, lived in New York when Hurricane Sandy hit and destroyed many people’s homes and means of living.
“A couple of weeks afterwards, I met up with a friend of mine, an army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Klay told the audience. “I asked him what he had been up to and he said, ‘I’ve been working with Team Rubicon’.”
Team Rubicon is a veteran-led disaster relief organization that utilizes both veterans and emergency responders. The two occupations are similar in that they require hard work in chaotic environments. Team Rubicon sent teams into the streets to locate survivors who were stranded in the aftermath. There were quite a few money and civilian agencies trying to help victims, but their disorganization rendered them less helpful.
“He had gone in with Team Rubicon, and they started sending in teams of veterans to find out what people needed, where people were and what was going on. They started feeding all of this information into this data visualization program,” Klay said. “Basically, they had this map, and it shows ‘old lady in an apartment with no food or water here,’ ‘family of five in need of clothes and transportation here,’ and ‘here’s a group that can help out the old lady,’ ‘here’s a group that can help out the family.’ Then they coordinated with the different groups to get people what they needed.”
At this point, Klay’s friend asked his question in reverse.
“So he tells me, ‘Yeah it was pretty great, you know, did a good job out there. So what have you been up to?’ at which point I was hoping he really wouldn’t ask,” Klay said. “I was like, ‘Uh, I’m writing stories.’”
Klay encounters this type of situation often, but feels that “storytelling is one of the most vital responsibilities that we have.”
Klay’s novel is a collection of stories told through the eyes of soldiers who are either deployed in Iraq or have returned home to the United States. The book has received strong reviews from the New York Times, among others.
The 2014 National Book Award, granted by the National Book Foundation, is selected by an elite panel of past award winners, writers and literary critics.
Klay is also a 2014 National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Honoree, an award that is given to the most promising young writers in the fiction genre.