Literary Arts Series

Authors visit Bergen Community College

Phil Klay


Phil Klay is the 2019 Literary Arts Series speaker. He will be speaking Thursday, March 28, 2019 in TEC 128, 1:45-3:00 p.m. This event is co-sponsored by the Center for Peace, Justice, and Reconciliation.

Klay is the author of Redeployment, which won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2014.Videos of Klay receiving award

He is the 2018 Hunt Prize winner for outstanding work in Cultural and Historical Criticism.

He is a graduate of Dartmouth College. In 2005 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. In January 2007 he deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Marine Logistics Unit (Forward) as a public affairs officer and served overseas for thirteen months, returning in February 2008. He left the Corps in 2009 and attended Hunter College’s M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing, graduating in 2011. In 2015 he became a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University and later taught as a lecturer in Princeton’s Program in Creative Writing.

Photo by Elizabeth Weinberg


The Guardian ‘Incendiary stories of war’“In my favourite piece,”Prayer in the Furnace”, a self-examining chaplain berates himself for daring to suggest that some good would come of suffering. He finds himself “disgusting” and “vile”. He receives a startlingly beautiful letter from his mentor and writes a sermon citing Wilfred Owen. He is compassionate, despairing, desperate, resolved, courageous, cowardly, a foolhardy failure and a dogged success of a man, all at the same time. Not easy to achieve in 38 pages.

New York Times: The Madness of War Told in the First Person“It is these tales, which do not directly try to address the nature of storytelling, that make the reader most aware of the tools that memory and art can provide in trying to make sense of the chaotic experience of war.””

NPR: ‘Redeployment’ Explores Iraq War’s Physical And Psychic Costs“Here’s an old joke you may have heard:”How many Vietnam vets does it take to screw in a light bulb?” Answer: “You wouldn’t know, you weren’t there.”


Image Journal: A Conversation with Phil Klay“I think we don’t quite know what to make of our wars, in part because we’re still involved. It seems that after every war we start to think about what the contract between citizen and soldier is exactly, what to make of those who serve, and what to make of our responsibility for the wars fought in our name. There’s plenty that frustrates me, but there are also a lot of great voices in the conversation now.”


The Atlantic: Two Decades of War Have Eroded the Morale of America’s Troops“If the courage of young men and women in battle truly does depend on the nature and quality of our civic society, we should be very worried. We should expect to see a sickness spreading from our public life and into the hearts of the men and women who continue to risk their lives on behalf of a distracted nation. And when we look closely, that is exactly what we see: a sickness that all the ritualistic displays of support for our troops at sporting events and Veterans Day celebrations, and in the halls of Congress, can’t cure.”

Brookings Essay: The Citizen-Soldier: Moral Risk and the Modern Military“It was somewhat surprising (to me, anyway, and certainly to my parents) that I wound up in the Marines. I wasn’t from a military family. My father had served in the Peace Corps, my mother was working in international medical development. If you’d asked me what I wanted to do, post-college, I would have told you I wanted to become a career diplomat, like my maternal grandfather. I had no interest in going to war.”

The American Scholar: Tales of War and Redemption“My boyhood objection to the savagery of the martyrdom stories, to God’s ultimate silence in the face of suffering and death, takes on a different light in the wake of such deaths. To anyone with any kind of experience in war, a story of God saving the good would feel less like a comfort and more like an indictment. Any soldier can tell you that no amount of prayer provides security for the defenseless in a war zone. The good die. The bad die. The combatants die, and the children die. The old men and the women and the fathers and mothers and sisters and daughters and sons die. Sometimes, often, they die horribly.”

The New York Times: The Warrior at the Mall“I understand why politicians and writers and institutions choose to employ the trope of veterans when it comes to arguing for their causes. Support for our military remains high at a time when respect for almost every other institution is perilously low, so pushing a military angle as a wedge makes a certain kind of sense. But our peacetime institutions are not justified by how they intermittently intersect with national security concerns — it’s the other way around. Our military is justified only by the civic life and values it exists to defend.”

America Magazine: Deployment to Iraq changed my view of God, country and humankind. So did coming home.“Once you move outside the realm of physical force and into the realm of social power, you move into the realm of uncertainty. Each action of yours sparks a chain of reactions among the people you are trying to influence, reactions that all the social science in the world and all the mapping of nodes of power cannot predict. As Hannah Arendt points out, “The reason why we are never able to foretell with certainty the outcome and end of any action is simply that action has no end…the smallest act in the most limited circumstances bears the seed of the same boundlessness, because one deed, and sometimes one word, suffices to change every constellation.”

On Teaching Redeploynment

The Guardian: How Veterans Are Using Poetry to Heal“Since 2001, 2.77 million US service members have served on 5.4m deployments to support American wars, according to an analysis by the Rand Corporation. An estimated 11% of veterans deployed to Afghanistan and 20% of those deployed to Iraq have PTSD, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Theater of War“Rooted in discussions about the invisible and visible wounds of war, the company’s hallmark project is designed to increase awareness of psychological health issues, disseminate information on available resources, and foster greater community cohesion.”

n + 1: Mogadishu, Baghdad, Troy; or, Heroes Without War“Whenever one compares modern war to ancient war, there is the danger of arguing for a simple continuity between all forms of war across history. Warfare is not continuous, however; methods change. American commentators have already invoked the Mogadishu mutilations multiple times—in the days and months following the spectacle in Fallujah—and this analogy, in their hands, has been misleading.”

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