Acclaimed author Phil Klay came to Ramapo this past Thursday to discuss his recent collection, “Redeployment,” which won the National Book Award for fiction in 2014. The collection of short stories were a result of Klay’s experience as a Public Affairs Officer during the Iraq War from 2007 until early 2009. The book also saw commendation from the National Book Critics Circle, who awarded the book the John Leonard Award and from The New York Times, who included it in their Ten Best Books of 2014 list.
Klay began his time at the College with a question and answer session in the York Room, orchestrated by literature professor Hugh Sheehy. He touched greatly on the craft elements of his novel—how he collected the parts for his stories and his personal experience in the war. The talk opened up discussion about the way civilians have the tendency to distance themselves from war and the general breakdown of veteran to civilian communication that is a result of the disenfranchisement of military veterans aside from cordial appreciation for service. Klay spoke to how the purpose of his book was to spark dialogue about the issues facing veterans when they return home.
“You don’t go to war and experience the truth of war; you go there with all the stories you have in your head. You try to shape your experience as you’re there … we use the stories that we tell ourselves to interpret the experience,” Klay said.
The floor was opened to students and faculty in attendance who had questions for the Dartmouth graduate about his novel. While many of the questions were about his first-hand experience in the war, which in past interviews he has referred to as “mild,” the actual material in the book was also covered.
“I was always a big reader… I had a professor in college who found out I was going into the Marines and told me I had to read Hemmingway and others before I left. That was my first sustained look at war fiction,” said Klay.
Later in the evening Klay did a reading from his collection in the Pavilion. He is one of few authors who have found success in their very first novel or collection, and following his reading in the Pavilion it appears that he will continue to write fiction now that he has stable ground to stand on.