Students interested in writing were able to gain insight in the field during the week of Feb. 26 through March 2 when author Brian Castner hosted a week-long workshop on campus to engage students in nonfiction and fiction writing.
According to Castner, this workshop was a standard creative writing program.
“It’s for people who want to learn to write better and to be able to bring their work in,” he said. “They have stuff that they’re working on and trying to improve, and they’re doing it in a more traditional workshop environment.”
The workshop was to be capped at 12 students with veterans having priority. It was open to everyone, and to apply, participants had to submit a writing sample to Castner. The program emphasized on literary work about war, conflict and the after-effects, although these themes were not considered exclusively.
Along with the workshop, Castner gave a craft talk that was open to the public on Tuesday, Feb. 28. Through this talk, he conveyed the issues on certain aspects of writing, such as bias in the media and what writers and journalists owe their readers.
Castner is a nonfiction writer and the author of the bestseller “All the Ways We Kill and Die.” He has also written the war memoir “The Long Walk,” which was named an Amazon Best Book and adapted into an opera.
His most recent work is titled “The Road Ahead,” a collection of short stories from veteran writers that Castner co-edited. During the Iraq War, Castner served as an explosive ordnance disposal officer.
Castner grew up in Buffalo and studied as an undergraduate at Marquette University in Milwaukee. He received his master’s degree in engineering at Oklahoma State University and then went into the military. He served in the Air Force as an officer from 1999 through 2007.
Coming back from the military, Castner became a contractor. “I taught other bomb technicians to do what I had done, and then I started writing full-time in 2010,” he said.
According to Castner, he had always wanted to write but didn’t see it as a potential future career. Instead, he got an engineering degree and went into the military. “I had always read a lot and written stuff for myself, but I had a lot of struggles coming back from Iraq,” he said.
After concluding that writing would help with his struggles, Castner noted the difference between writing for himself and writing for a publication.
“I thought, well, maybe here is an opportunity that what’s happening to me is something that somebody else would want to read,” he said.
Apart from his books, Castner is a contributing writer to VICE. Other works of his have also appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Wired, Foreign Policy, Outside, Buzzfeed, Boston Globe, Time, The Daily Beast, The Los Angeles Review of Books and on National Public Radio.
The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting has also twice presented Castner with grants. One was to cover the outbreak of Ebola in Liberia back in 2014, and the other was to paddle the 1200-mile Mackenzie River to the Arctic Ocean in 2016.
Having four kids, Castner describes his job as being a full-time writer and full-time dad.
“Except when I’m here [at workshops], I put my kids on the bus in the morning, I write, they get off the bus and there my day ends,” he said. “Then I make dinner and I’m dad.”