Leilani Squire is a published poet and author, CCA Certified Creativity Coach, and Associate Member of The Dramatist Guild. For the past seven years she has facilitated creative writing workshops for veterans and military families, culminating in the annual public event Returning Soldiers Speak, where active duty and veterans tell their stories through prose and poetry. In 2014, Bettie Youngs Books published the anthology Returning Soldiers Speak: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry by Soldiers and Veterans compiled by Leilani.
In the spring of 2017, The Los Angeles County Arts Commission awarded Wellness Works, Glendale, a grant for Leilani to facilitate a series of two workshops—one for veterans and one for military family members. At a public reading in Los Angeles, the participants read their creative work and then compiled their stories, poetry, and essays in the anthology Storytellers: Veterans and Family Members Write About Military Life (2017).
When asked in her interview with bookscover2cover about Storytellers, Leilani writes:
The book is about what it means to be a veteran, what it means to be someone who was raised in the military or whose relative is a veteran. This book is about how the military complex affects the ones who serve, and the ones who stay behind. It’s about life and death, isolation and belonging, hope and despair, war and peace, loss and gain, sadness and joy, gratitude and pretty much everything in between.
In 2005, Leilani began to write about the wounded soldiers who were returning from Iraq, which in turn led her to facilitate writing workshops for veterans and combat veterans. Coming from a military family (her father was a retired Navy veteran, thirty years), she is familiar with military life, but facilitating writing workshops to veterans was a new experience. Now that she has offered these workshops for seven years, she believes that whatever success she has had begins with two questions she has asked herself: “How do I get veterans and family members to write authentically? How do I create the space for them to trust, to explore and to write the story they want to tell?”
For many veterans who walk into her workshops, they haven’t ever written or haven’t written since high school, or they say they can’t spell or don’t know what to write about. Leilani’s reply: “That’s okay, I can’t spell either and sometimes I have no idea what to write about or how to say what I want to say. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar right now. Come on let’s write together.”
She uses “Come on let’s write” when she faces her own blank page. She knows writing will take care of the sadness or despair she feels when she isn’t “making meaning through the stories and the worlds and characters I create with language and words.” Every morning she writes “her truth” and hopes that somehow this truth will “move society toward balance and the world toward peace.” And when the writing doesn’t turn out as she hopes? She tosses “the crumpled pages into the trashcan because that’s where the pages belong. But even that has its good side—my aim is awesome.”
Leilani’s booklist includes books that are meaningful to her and those she introduces in her writing workshops.
Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn (a favorite); What It Is Like To Go To War
Tim O’Brien, All of his books
James Jones, The Thin Red Line; Whistle
Hugh Martin, The Stick Soldiers
Euripides, The Trojan Women
Mahmoud Darwish, The Butterfly’s Burden
Czeslaw Milosz, Selected Poems
Pablo Neruda’s poetry
Books she is reading now or has just finished:
A practicing Nichiren Buddhist, she tries to read something everyday about Buddhism.
On the practice of reading and writing, Leilani is upbeat and thorough and is a practitioner of her own advice.
Read as much as you can and read a wide range of topics and genres. When you find an author that you resonate with, read everything by that author. Write everyday, even if it’s only 10 minutes. The blank page or the blinking cursor is probably the scariest thing for a writer. Don’t feel alone if that’s how you feel! However, don’t let that fear, or whatever it is, stop you. If you find yourself saying, ‘I don’t have anything to write.’ Or, ‘What’s the use?’ I say, write about what you ate for breakfast. Write about the streaming light cast upon your cat curled up on the windowsill. Write about the irritating barista who never gets your order right. Write about … well, you get the picture. And find other writers who you feel camaraderie with. We writers close the door to our room, and write and write and write. It can get lonely inside there after a while. Never underestimate a good friend who also loves to read and write.