A few weeks ago, we were thrilled to host author and journalist Donna Bryson and to chat with her about her new book Home of the Brave. Our friends at the Bean Cycle were kind enough to loan us some space, and the tiny (but enthusiastic) group that came had a truly engaging conversation with Donna over their cups of coffee.
Donna was kind enough to answer some of our questions to be featured here, for those of you who missed the event. We talked a little bit about how her two different writing careers intersect, and the inspiration behind her book. We hope you enjoy her answers!
What was your path to becoming a journalist? Was it something you always wanted to do?
I have wanted to be a journalist since I was very young. I’ve always been curious about people, but a little shy. Journalism forces me to get over my shyness and reach out to people. I also love to write, which is, I suppose, another way of reaching out to people.
Of course, you’re not just a journalist, you are also a published author. What are some of the different challenges that come with writing a book versus a short form journalism? Are there things involved with writing a book that you enjoy that you don’t get to do when working on a shorter piece? Or vice versa?
I never thought I’d write a book. I set out to write It’s a Black-White Thing in large part because I was preparing to return to the US after 18 years as a foreign correspondent with no clear idea what my career would look like going forward. Writing a book gave me something to do that I could completely control at a time when other parts of my life seemed beyond my control. I at first thought writing a book would just be like writing one long article. Luckily, I had a great editor at Tafelberg, the South African publisher of It’s a Black-White Thing, who taught me through astute questioning that a book needed a different structure and to address different concerns. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about writing my books is the freedom to step back and let a story tell you what’s important over time.
Your newest book, Home of the Brave, focuses on the story of one woman’s journey to help save her town, which manifests as a program aimed at helping veterans reintegrate into civilian life. How did you first hear about the Welcome Home Montrose project and what was it about this story that inspired you to write a book about it?
I first read about Welcome Home Montrose in a Denver Post profile of Tim Kenney, a veteran in Montrose. I pitched an article about Welcome Home Montrose to the military publication Stars and Stripes. Once that story was published, I felt there was more to learn in Montrose and decided to do a book, which involved many more visits and more reporting. My book takes readers from the early days of the project through 2016. Readers who want to keep up with the project, now known as the Welcome Home Alliance for Veterans, might want to check out its Web site: https://www.whafv.org/
What steps would you suggest to those people who are looking to help veterans in their community?
I think Melanie Kline’s approach of diving deep into her community to get ideas is a great way to start helping vets – and to start helping your community. Listening is so key.
What are some of your favorite places you have visited and reported from? Is there a place you would like to visit in the future?
These days I often find myself thinking of places I visited when I was based in the Middle East. The Yemeni capital of San’a was magical, with its jumble of ancient buildings constructed of warm brown stones and bricks decorated with white plaster. I remember Syria and Lebanon for the hospitality of their people and the fantastic cuisine. Now, all we hear from these vibrant, creative countries are reports of devastation and political crises. I hope for a better future – and would love to visit again to see that future one day.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad. It’s brilliant – universal, wise, and often hilarious. It is set in wartime Baghdad and is much more than a modern retelling of Mary Shelley’s gothic novel. Saadawi’s work is truly original.
Now I’m reading Muncie, India(na): Middletown and Asian America by Himanee Gupta-Carlson. It’s part memoirs, part ethnographic study and has some real insights into what it means to be American.
Thanks again to Donna for coming out to the event and for taking the time to answer our questions here! You can find out more about Donna on her website. You can purchase a copy of Home of the Brave online here, or call the store to have us reserve a copy!