Art & Document (formerly the journal of the Center for Documentary Arts) is a project at the crossroads of art, ethics, faith, and social justice. Created by Timothy Cahill, Art & Document presents artists, writers, and thinkers whose work promotes the common good, bears witness to suffering, and manifests qualities of beauty, compassion, dignity, justice, and mercy.

30 September 2011

Helen Benedict to read

The press release for the reading Helen Benedict will give from her new novel Sand Queen, October 23 at 4 pm, at the Opalka Gallery, Sage College of Albany. Helen was the subject of a blog post on these pages a few weeks ago, which included an interview and excerpt; to learn more, follow the links to that earlier post, to the interview with the author, and an excerpt of the novel.

Author Helen Benedict to read from Sand Queen, her new novel about women soldiers in Iraq, at Opalka Gallery October 23
Author and journalist Helen Benedict will read from her new novel Sand Queen on Sunday, October 23 at 4 p.m. at the Opalka Gallery on the Sage College of Albany campus. The reading, hosted by The Sage Colleges in collaboration with the Creative Arts Therapy Program, the Center for Documentary Arts, and Women Against War, is held in conjunction with the exhibit Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan. The reading is free and open to the public.

Benedict will conduct a seminar on women in war the following day, October 24, at 11 a.m. in Bush Memorial, on the Russell Sage College campus in Troy. The seminar is also opened to the public. 

Sand Queen follows two women whose lives intersect at the beginning of the Iraq War. Kate Brady is a 19-year-old US soldier stationed at a make-shift prison in the Iraqi desert, and Naema Jassim is an Iraqi medical student fighting to keep her family intact. Kate, the book’s heroine, joined the Army to bring honor to her family, but instead finds herself threatened both by the prisoners she guards and the men she serves with. Sand Queen exposes the brutality, hardship, and humiliation faced by women in the US military, while also revealing the humor and courage women on both sides of the battlefield use to endure war’s violence and destruction.

Pulitzer Prize novelist Robert Olen Butler praised Sand Queen as, “an important book by one our finest literary artists.”

“Every war eventually yields works of art which transcend politics and history and illuminate our shared humanity,” wrote Butler. “Helen Benedict’s brilliant new novel has done just that with this century’s American war in Iraq.” Kirkus Reviews called the novel “[an] unforgettable testament,” and the Boston Globe proclaimed, “This is The Things They Carried for women in Iraq ... feels right and true.”

Benedict is author of five previous novels and five books of nonfiction, and is a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Her 2009 nonfiction book The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq, roused alarm in the Pentagon and Congress with its descriptions of the physical and emotional distress women face the military. Following the book’s publication, Benedict testified twice before Congress on behalf of women soldiers.

What Benedict learned writing Lonely Soldier became the foundation for Sand Queen. “I came to realize,” Benedict said, “even after interviewing more than 40 women who served in the Iraq War and doing a lot of other research too, that there was more to say—an internal, private story of war that lay in the soldiers’ silences, jokes, and tears. Those moments are closed to the journalist, but they are exactly where fiction can go.”

The reading is hosted by The Sage Colleges’ Creative Arts Therapy Program, in conjunction with Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan, a traveling exhibit of 25 murals depicting the war in Afghanistan through the eyes of artists around the world. The exhibit was created and is being toured nationally by the American Friends Service Committee. Showings at both the Sage College of Albany and Russell Sage College are coordinated by Women Against War, a Capital District organization dedicated to peace. The exhibit will be on display at the Opalka Gallery, on Sage’s Albany campus, October 22-23, and at the Schacht Fine Arts Center on the Troy campus, October 24-28.

Benedict’s appearance was arranged through the Center for Documentary Arts as part of its ongoing series of film screenings, readings, and artist appearances. The Center for Documentary Arts, which is hosted by The Sage Colleges, is a not-for-profit cultural organization founded to raise humanitarian awareness and support compassion-in-action.

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