In his recently published memoir, Corvallis author Steven Moore shares his experiences as a part-time soldier in the Iowa Army National Guard while exploring lingering questions about the purpose and outcome of America’s presence in Afghanistan.
Moore, whose stories describe the experience of balancing the civilian-military dichotomy, will present excerpts from his memoir, “The Longer We Were There,” during a literary reading at WineKraft in Astoria on Tuesday. The event, organized by the Writer’s Guild of Astoria, is being held in concurrence with Veterans Day on Monday and the Portland BookFest on Saturday.
Highlighting unresolved questions
Moore was born and raised in southeast Iowa. At 17, he enlisted with the National Guard and spent the next seven years bouncing between graduating high school, taking college classes, military training, civilian jobs, disaster relief, and a deployment to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Before heading overseas, he graduated from the University of Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in English. In 2016, he got his master’s in creative nonfiction from Oregon State University.
Moore has long possessed an affinity for expressing himself through the written word. Within the genre of military-related autobiographies, he noticed a lack of material from people in the National Guard. He also was motivated to write by a desire to sift through his observations and “some of the questions that were unresolved for me,” he said.
Through his work, Moore pondered “how purposeful our time was” in Afghanistan, whether or not they accomplished what they intended to, and what it means to be successful in that scenario.
“I was really unsure of whether or not we should be satisfied with what we did,” he said.
At the start, the Army was successful in endowing infantry members with a sense of confidence and certainty. Once they were stationed overseas, however, “that kind of fell apart really fast,” he said. The group they were replacing was dishearteningly honest about the unlikelihood of achieving their goals.
Creative writing empowered Moore to work through and even resolve some questions, or to at least identify and articulate certain questions in a way he hadn’t before. The memoir doesn’t necessarily provide a definitive answer, he said, but “it gets you a little closer.”
Identifying with the military
Another aspect of the National Guard that intrigued Moore was how the members represented various backgrounds, occupations and stages of life, from recent graduates like Moore to professionals well into their careers. Even though life in the military is fairly standardized and regulated, “the person you are in your civilian time still shows up to work,” he said.
Being around the same set of people 24-hours per day also propels relationships forward quickly in a brief span of time.
“You learn about people in a really intimate way really quickly, just from living so close to them all the time,” Moore said.
His favorite aspect of the memoir in its finished form is how it encapsulates a broad range of experiences and stories that evoke different emotions.
“It varies in a lot of ways,” he said. “Parts of it are funny, parts of it are sad.”
During the Astoria reading, the first he is doing specifically for his memoir, he will read several excerpts to give listeners a sense of that breadth, along with insight into a lifestyle filled with strange and unique circumstances.
The literary reading will also feature presentations by three local writers: Heather Douglas, Kimberly O’Bryant and Alyssa Graybeal. The Writer’s Guild, established in 2018, holds monthly meetings that incorporate various activities, such as open mic, freeform writing and critique-focused sessions, said board member and development coordinator Andrew Zingg. The Guild also holds workshops and retreats, in addition to promoting literacy in the local schools.
“Writing is such a solitary act,” Zingg said, adding the Guild is designed to give the writer community a way to connect with, support and inspire one another.