Co-creator of DU Dog Tag debuts new vets’ writing group

Brandon Addeo | News Editor

The co-creator of Duquesne’s DU Dog Tag, a creative writing group for veterans, is starting a new veterans’ writing group in Westmoreland County.

Ashley Kunsa, assistant director of Duquesne’s writing center and a doctoral candidate, will debut VetsWrite at the Norwin Public Library in Irwin, PA, in seven workshops starting Saturday, Sept. 17 at 2:30 p.m.

The group is free to join, and no creative writing experience is required, Kunsa said. Current service members and adult family members of servicemen and women are also encouraged to attend.

Kunsa said she started the new group to better serve the veteran population — which is less than one percent of the U.S. population.

“Veterans are just a chronically underserved population,” she said. “I thought it’d be really great to use my creative writing skills and my teaching skills to sort of bring writing into the community and give … [veterans] the opportunity to come and write.”

Kunsa said she wants the group to help “create a dialogue” between veterans and the community.

The group will focus on both fiction and nonfiction writing, and Kunsa encourages attendees to bring in their own previous writing samples, including journals, emails and other correspondence from their time in the military.

If writers do not feel comfortable sharing their stories publicly, they can do so privately instead, Kunsa said.

“They can share as much as they want and not share if they don’t want to,” she said. “If somebody … wants to just give me something to take home to look at and give feedback on, that’s completely fine.”

Ryne Tobar, a second year philosophy master’s student and Navy veteran, is a member of the DU Dog Tag writing group.

Tobar said he did a lot of writing during his time in the military.

“While I was in the Navy I spent a good amount of time writing, either as a travel journal or working toward short stories,” he said. “But mostly this was a way for me to pass some time and to help me make sense of some of my experiences.”

Tobar said writing functions as an outlet for him.

“Writing gives me a way to say things I don’t believe, or don’t agree with, or that I’m too scared to actually say, or unsure of who or where I’m supposed to say it to,” he said. “This isn’t the whole, ‘you wouldn’t understand’ mentality, because I honestly think that I don’t always understand.”

While the college students in DU Dog Tag are mostly veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on terror, Kunsa expects VetsWrite will attract veterans of older wars, such as Vietnam, as well.
She said creative writing can be a therapeutic experience.

“People talk about creative writing as healing,” Kunsa said. “I do look at this as a … healing experience for veterans and their families, but more than that, it’s also a way for them to share their stories.”

Tobar added that his story is only his to tell.

“No one else can tell me what my military service means,” he said. “A lot of people try, or they make assumptions about me and what I’m all about. But it’s up to me to decide.

“For me, a process that I think is important in trying to figure this all out, is through writing,” he added.

On Oct. 8, local author Michael Durkota, who served on a Navy submarine in the ‘90s, will speak to the group about his experiences.

Kunsa also plans on forming another VetsWrite group in Allegheny County in the spring of next year. She said it will be at the McKeesport Veterans Affairs office.

The other fall workshops will take place on Sept. 24, Oct. 1, Oct. 8, Oct. 15, Oct. 29, Nov. 5 and Nov. 12 with a special Veteran’s Day reading. More information can be found on