‘Casualty:’ Special Issue of the <i>Massachusetts Review</i>, Explores the Enduring Toll of War

AMHERST, Mass. - War, loss, exile, captivity, survival, assault, witness and silence. This is just part of what catalyzes "Casualty," a remarkable special edition of artwork, prose, poetry, fiction, and testimony by an internationally celebrated group of contributors - published by the Massachusetts Review at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The special double issue of more than 400 pages includes original pieces by, among others, former secretary general of the United Nations and Nobel Prize recipients Kofi Annan, Tony award winner David Rabe, Booker Prize honoree John Berger, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Rohde, the former New York Times reporter who was kidnapped by the Taliban and later escaped.

Several contributors - including best-selling Italian novelist, Erri De Luca, foreign correspondent Charles Sennott, a UMass Amherst alumnus who has provided award-winning coverage of the war in Afghanistan and the Arab Spring, poet Robert Dow, writer Doug Anderson and novelist Gina Apostol - will read from their work at a special issue-launch event on Friday, Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. in 231 Herter Hall on the UMass Amherst campus.

Literature has the power to bring together the finest, strongest and most distinctive voices of the age in a forum that is unavoidable and a chorus that is undeniable, says MR editor Jim Hicks.

Such is the case with "Casualty," which also includes works by a Nadal Prize winner, the late Juan José Saer, Xeric Award recipients Summer McClinton and Josh Neufeld, and Pulitzer Prize winner Yusef Komunyakaa. What makes the issue so powerful, Hicks says, is not the prestige of its contributors as award winners so much as the challenge they present: witnesses and participants compelled to present their testimony and tell their stories again and again.

"This issue is a monster, in every sense," he said. "We just kept getting positive responses to our queries - both dynamite work and top-shelf authors, so the idea must have struck a chord."

Critical to striking that chord, says Hicks, was his co-editor for the issue, Kevin Bowen, director of UMass Boston’s William Joiner Center for the study of war and social consequences.

"His work influenced every aspect of the issue, and also resulted in a very strong presence of writers associated with UMass Boston and the Joiner Center, including Martha Collins, Maryam Ghodrati, Fred Marchant, Askold Melnyczuk and Taylor Stoehr," said Hicks.

Hicks points to an impressive representation of contributors from the Five College community including:

• An oral history piece from the UMass Amherst history department’s Chris Appy and translations by comparative literature’s Una Tanovic, as well as alumnus Charles Sennott’s piece about how he unwittingly helped to save the life of his brother’s would-be assassin;

• A piece on the neuroscience of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury from Mount Holyoke College’s Susan Barry; an evocation of Tuscany just before its WWII devastation from former Smith College art historian Ruth Kennedy as presented by Smith’s Martin and Nina Antonetti, and a tribute to Leah Melnick, a Hampshire College graduate who was killed in Bosnia in 1997, including pieces by Annan and Rohde.

• An essay by Afghan vet and memoirist Tyler Boudreau, and work from the visual artist Sarah Bliss.

"The whole idea behind the issue," said Hicks, "has been, 10 years after 9/11, to take the long view, and a worldwide view, of the ongoing cost of war on those intimately involved in it. Despite local talk of endgames and exit strategies, the true casualty of war is permanent; it doesn’t stop when we turn off our televisions."