In these workshops, veterans and service members find healing through writing

Seema Reza presenting a workshop
(Image credit: Courtesy of Seema Reza)

Through her writing workshops, poet and author Seema Reza helps veterans, service members and civilians find their voices, guiding them as they learn how the power of creative storytelling can heal.

This has always felt "like really sacred work," Reza, the CEO and founder of the nonprofit Community Building Art Works (CBAW), told The Week. She has been facilitating workshops since 2010, when she was hired at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to create an arts program. She worked with veterans and service members with PTSD from their time in Iraq and Afghanistan, and quickly found that to deal with physical and emotional injuries, "community is essential."

The workshops, led by professional artists, focus on developing camaraderie and artistic expression; it's been found that literary arts experiences, whether it's writing poetry or reading together, increases a sense of belonging and decreases loneliness. In the last 13 years, Reza, who launched CBAW in 2017, has worked with thousands of people, offering assistance or just a listening ear as they write down their intimate thoughts or recount life experiences. "For me, it feels like I get to be someone's hype crew," she said. "They are doing all the work, I don't have to do anything."

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CBAW workshops went virtual in 2020 to ensure consistency for participants who need to attend regular meetings. This also made the workshops more accessible for those who might not want to go to a military base or need to read captions. Admissions are rolling, with all voices welcome. "If you can think and read, you can write," Reza said. "You are welcome to come read and write and think with us."

This summer, CBAW is helping send three female veterans to the Fine Arts Work Center (FAWC) in Provincetown, Massachusetts, covering their tuition for an intensive writing workshop. Reza went to FAWC in 2017, and spent a week reading, writing poetry and walking on the beach. "I had complete relief from the clutter of my life," she said, and felt safe and completely at peace. Being in this space was such a turning point for Reza that she wanted to ensure other women could share in the same experience and let their words flow. "It's a lot to be alive," Reza said, and it is her belief that "everyone has a story inside them and everyone's is really, really valid and important."

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.