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During the past few years, dozens of books have been released about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But a publication due next fall from the Random House Publishing Group stands out for one key reason: It was originated by the federal government.
Above and Beyond, a compilation of poetry, fiction and nonfiction by U.S. soldiers and their families about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was conceived last year by the National Endowment for the Arts. Tom Clancy, Tobias Wolff and Mark Bowden were among the writers who led workshops for contributors.
NEA chairman Dana Gioia said several publishers were interested and that Random House was chosen from among four finalists. Gioia said that Random House will donate its bid, in the low six figures, to the Southern Arts Federation, a not-for-profit agency that has administered the NEA's "Operation Homecoming," out of which Above and Beyond was developed.
"We felt that Random House had a deep commitment to the book," Gioia said Wednesday.
The book is a landmark, said Nancy Miller, an executive editor and senior vice president with the publisher.
"So many prominent writers have been involved from the beginning and the writing I've seen is stunning," she said.
Another government project, The 9-11 Commission Report, was a surprise best-seller last year. The report, by a bipartisan panel on the deadliest terror attack in U.S. history, was published by W.W. Norton.
The editor of Above and Beyond, Andrew Carroll, expects the book to contain at least 100 selections, including poems, short stories, essays and letters. Carroll acknowledged that some publishers raised questions about editorial control; Miller said Random House was assured Carroll would have editorial control.
Some of the greatest literature has been inspired by war, dating back to Homer and continuing throughout the 20th century with such novels as Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead and Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried.
But few notable works have come from recent conflicts, at least not from veterans. Mailer has cited the end of the draft, in 1972, leading to a pool of troops that may not have a "high literary orientation."
"I think the writing for this book is extraordinary," Carroll said. "And that's why we call it Above and Beyond, because it really is above and beyond what we expected. Writers like (Kurt) Vonnegut) and Tim O'Brien waited years after their service to write their books. There's an immediacy and rawness to this book that makes it so compelling."
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