Award-winning Author Brian Turner Leading Writing Workshop at Festival for Veterans who Enter Story Contest

Contest Open to S.D. Veterans & Active Duty, Video & Written Entries due Aug. 16

By South Dakota Magazine & South Dakota Humanities Council
Editor's Note: A version of this feature story will be printed in our 2019 South Dakota Festival of Books guide produced by South Dakota Magazine. Subscribe to our e-newsletter to receive a free digital copy of the guide as soon as it is released this summer.

Brian Turner has been, among other things, a DJ, an English teacher and a pickler, a bass guitar instructor and a soldier: he spent seven years in the Army, with deployments as an infantry team leader in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq.

At the 2019 South Dakota Festival of Books, the award-winning author will be a featured presenter and the leader of a workshop tailor-made for Veteran writers.

South Dakota State University Veterans Affairs and the South Dakota Humanities Council are co-sponsoring the Veterans Story Contest, which culminates with an awards ceremony during the Festival of Books. To enter the contest, veterans or current service members who reside in South Dakota must send either a 3-5 minute video presentation or a written story (previously unpublished) of up to 1,500 words.

Entries are due Aug. 16. Every veteran who enters receives a free ticket to Turner's writing workshop; additionally, three finalists in each category are invited to a reading/showing of their work during the festival. Each category winner receives a cash prize of $500, with $300 and $200 awarded for second and third, respectively.

Visit the Veterans Story Contest page now for more details or submit your entry now to

Turner: Enlisting was 'Layered and Complicated'

The Festival of Books has hosted several household names in the veteran writing world, including Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler and National Book Award winner Tim O'Brien. While their stories differ, all veteran authors draw upon the war-related experiences that inspired them to write. Many reflect on the personal and often lifelong consequences of war.

Turner's latest book, is "My Life as a Foreign Country: A Memoir," an effort that O'Brien, who appeared at the 2017 Festival of Books, called "a humane, heartbreaking, and expertly crafted work of literature." It starts from the very beginning of Turner's war experience, as he explores his seminal decision to enlist.

"As I look back now, I realize how layered and complicated that decision was," Turner says.

Since his discharge in 2005, Turner has carved out a writing career that arcs from poetry to essays, with a foot in both academia and the commercial publishing world. In addition to his individual poetry collections, "Here, Bullet" and "Phantom Noise," he has appeared in numerous anthologies as a contributor and editor.

2019 South Dakota Festival of Books author Brian Turner. Photo credit Kim Buchheit.

2019 South Dakota Festival of Books author Brian Turner. Photo credit Kim Buchheit.

Special Role at 2019 Festival

Turner will have a special role at the 2019 event as leader of the workshop for veterans who entered the Veterans Story Contest sponsored by SDHC and SDSU. He'll provide participants with extensive insight about how to write about their combat and service-connected experiences. The workshop is free for contest entrants but tickets can be purchased for $20. 

"For some [veterans], writing can help them to process and, perhaps, to reintegrate," Turner says. "In workshop, I don't focus solely on getting them to write out their military experiences or to help them to write about any one thing. I try to share thoughts and approaches that might help them to write their way into the rest of their lives.

"Stories, essays, poems — we use these art forms as vehicles for meditation. We use them to consider the profound, the sublime, the incomprehensible. We use them to process memory and to imagine the future. Veterans certainly have experiences worthy of being considered on the page, but they also have lives that are ongoing, with events and experiences that are also worthy of reflection."

Turner will also emcee and present awards for the contest during Saturday's event,
"Readings and Showing by the Winners of SDHC's Veterans Story Contest" from 3 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. at the Deadwood VFW, participate in book signings on both Friday and Saturday, and present a session called "Poetry of War & Homecoming" at 10 a.m. Saturday at the VFW. See his full schedule below.

Brian Turner’s 2019 Festival of Books Schedule 

Friday, Oct. 4

Saturday, Oct 5

  • 1:00 pm - 1:45 pm
    63 Presenters (including Turner)
    Deadwood Mountain Grand - Event Center

More About Brian Turner

Brian Turner served seven years in the U.S. Army. He has published two poetry collections — "Phantom Noise" and "Here, Bullet" — and a memoir, "My Life as a Foreign Country." He also edited the 2018 anthology "The Kiss" and was featured in the documentary "Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience." He directs the M.F.A. program at Sierra Nevada College and serves as contributing editor at The Normal School.

More About the Festival of Books

To read more about authors who will be appearing at the 2019 Festival of Books, click below to visit the Festival of Books website, which includes information about authors, venues, events and more.