The WVU Department of English would like to congratulate Brandon Davis Jennings on the recent publication of his new collection of essays, The Red Book or Operation Iraqi Freedom is My Fault. This project took seven years to complete and the essays have appeared in Crazyhorse, Black Warrior Review, Passages North, The literary Review, TriQuarterly, and NINTH LETTER. Jennings has a BA in Journalism from West Virginia University, an MFA in Creative Writing (fiction) from Bowling Green State, and a PhD in English from Western Michigan University.
Book Description from the Author:
The Red Book or Operation Iraqi freedom is My Fault is the story of what life was like for an Air Force brat who was molested on the night Mike Tyson lost the heavyweight title to Buster Douglas and then tried to handle that trauma on his own for twenty years. The essays follow him through high school in the Mojave Desert where he was the quarterback of a football team that lost almost every game 0-63, and then to rural West Virginia where he spent most of his time drinking handles of Smirnoff Vodka until he passed out. After moving to California for a short time to be reunited with his friends from high school, Jennings returns to West Virginia and joins the USAF and then serves in the USAF in Okinawa which is where he first plays a role in fighting the war on terror. He volunteers to go to Saudi Arabia in his friend’s place so that his friend can be home when his new child is born and while in Saudi Arabia, he is indefinitely extended because the United State invades Iraq. Once Jennings leaves the military he returns to West Virginia and enrolls in the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism and earns a degree while trying to recalibrate to civilian life after his time in the USAF.
When asked if there was anything he’d like to say to prospective readers of his new collection, Jennings said this:
I don’t know that the readers of your blog are more likely to be Appalachian, but in case they are, I think there is a kind of cultural poison in parts of Appalachia (it can exist elsewhere too, but I’m only talking about the root of the poison I had to find an antidote for). If you write or draw or paint or play guitar or whatever and someone asks you, “Why do you want to do that? You aren’t (insert successful example of artist here).” Then you need to ignore that garbage. Yes you need to feed yourself, and yes you need to take care of the people who depend on you. But even if you never sell any art at all, you can still make it for yourself and enjoy what you’re doing. I’m not a chicken-soup for the whatever’s soul kind of guy. I really dislike those books. I am, however, a guy who believes that constant negativity and cynicism (although funny on the surface) are toxic. I’m not talking about constructive criticism here. I’m talking about how I used to literally say, “that sucks” about every single thing that was new to me aside from a few choice things that I decided to like for reasons I’ll never have a good answer for. If you believe you live in a world that is built out of nothing but things that are terrible, then what is the point of staying in it when you have no power to make any difference? If that is where your mind is at right now, then you need to understand that you can fix that thought process. It took me a lot of talk therapy and a year and a half on Zoloft, and I am not embarrassed to talk about it. I don’t care if someone thinks that means I am weak or whatever adjective they want to use. A lot of folks in Appalachia say they “can’t complain” when they really ought to complain loudly. And complaining is one thing you can do. But what is more valuable and effective than complaining is doing something to make a change in your situation. That is what I do now. I work to make a positive difference in my life and in my community because there is value in that no matter what people might tell you. You can’t always surround yourself with positive people, but you can shield yourself from an onslaught of negativity by being positive yourself: even if you are only able to do it in your head. I will not apologize for this motivational speaking. If it’s corny to you, then I assure you that you’re part of the problem, and you can either recalibrate yourself or live out the rest of your days a miserable jerk. Anyway. That’s all I want to say to potential readers who may have constant negativity invading them throughout their days. Do something. Be positive. If all you ever do is complain and wait for someone else to save you, you’re likely to drown.