Michael Kula remembers his aha moment. He and his family were at Point Defiance Zoo. This was 2011. Kula, an assistant professor at UW Tacoma, had recently moved to the area from Wisconsin. “We were at the zoo and I saw a couple of young men, one in a wheelchair, and one with a prosthetic limb,” he said. “These were soldiers returning from active duty and until that moment I had the luxury of being oblivious to what was happening.”
Wisconsin has few military bases and a less-active military population than the South Sound. “Moving to this area and seeing the realities people returned to after serving left a mark,” said Kula.
Just a few months before, during his first quarter at UW Tacoma, Kula taught a literary editing and publishing class. For one of his assignments he asked students to pitch their own literary magazine. One group settled on the idea of creating a journal that focused on veterans’ experiences. “I thought that was something that could really work because the military is a huge segment of the population and there would be potential for a lot of readers,” said Kula.
The quarter ended and so did the project, but the thought of a military-themed journal stuck with Kula. The concept resurfaced as he watched the wounded vets that day at Point Defiance. “Once I personally got committed to the idea, professionally it kind of lit a fire under me,” he said.
Now came the hard part. Getting literary journals off the ground can be difficult. The audience for these publications is shrinking and securing funding can be challenging. Kula found one way to cut costs while helping students gain valuable experience. He teamed up with Huatong Sun, an assistant professor who teaches an advanced web design course. “Her class works with local non-profits and helps build websites for them,” said Kula. “I got to come in and talk about my vision and a few students offered to help.”
"For every solider there's probably twenty people who are directly impacted by that soldier's choice to serve," Michael Kula
The result was a website for what became Collateral. Kula knew he wanted to create a military-themed journal but was hesitant to focus on war. “There’s nothing wrong with that type of work but that voice has a place to be heard,” he said.
Kula decided he wanted Collateral to focus on how military life impacts both service members and those connected to them. UW Tacoma Lecturer and Collateral poetry editor Abby Murray explains it this way. “Our mission is to put a spotlight on the perspectives of those indirectly touched by war,” she said. “We want to see what happens when combat comes home or what happens when children grow up overseas and then move back to the states.”
Kula, Murray, Lecturer JM Miller and staff member Shane Benoit launched the first issue of Collateral earlier this month. The journal is currently only available online but that could change in the future. A print issue costs money and as Kula puts it, “right now we’re doing things lean, mean, and cheap.”
Collateral has received support from the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences. SIAS chipped in some funds to get the project moving but more is needed to keep it going. “We’re testing the waters right now, a lot of what happens next depends on how well the journal is received,” said Murray.
Beyond providing a forum, Kula also sees Collateral playing an important role in the classroom. “One of our goals is to provide our students with publishing experience,” he said. “We want to give them real-world experience with editing and layout.”
Right now all submissions are read by Kula, Murray, and Miller. The trio discuss pieces they enjoyed then decide which ones to feature in the journal. Anyone can submit material; you don’t have to have military experience.
There is only one real requirement to publication in Collateral. “It has to be well written but that doesn’t mean fancy or pretty, it means there’s a voice, a level of professionalism,” said Kula. Murray puts it more bluntly. “It has to have teeth. It has to be something that will stick to the brain stem and not really leave.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or email@example.com