This essay considers how the creative writing workshop transformed the white Vietnam vet into a minority writer. The MFA system, which organized the group-based politics of post–civil rights American literature, originated as a space geared toward white combat veterans. Some of the first graduate programs in creative writing were founded in the years after World War II, and their classes were dominated by white vets attending college on the GI Bill. The vets received the now-clichéd advice to write what they know, to turn their war experiences into war stories. The next wave of program building followed the passage of the Higher Education Act of 1965 and the Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Benefits Act of 1966, which brought Vietnam vets into a changing workshop, where students still learned to write what they know but also, as pre–civil rights racial liberalism turned to post–civil rights liberal multiculturalism, write who they are. The trauma of combat allowed white men to situate themselves within late twentieth-century literary culture by writing not as white men but as “veteran-Americans.” Veteran-American literature set white men within the pluralist institution but without forfeiting the cultural center, or the front seat in the classroom.

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