Six Years of Danger Close Alaska by Matt Komatsu

Danger Close Alaska began as a matter of envy. My first UAA MFA residency recently concluded, I was deployed to Africa in the summer of 2014. I missed the thrill of workshop, of being surrounded with the creative buzz that surrounded craft talks, the rush of responding to prompts that unlocked story ideas and forms I had no idea were rattling around in my brain. I needed more, and not just the MFA experience. Writing workshops for veterans had been springing up around the Lower 48, and I wondered what it would be like to be surrounded by people like me, with stories to tell about our time at war. It appeared that no one had tried to bring the model to Alaska, and with an MFA practicum requirement looming ahead, I wondered if maybe I could do it.

It’s accurate to say that I did it. One Friday in February of 2016, I kicked off a two-day intensive for 16 veterans and civilians. But it’s more precise to state that we did it. That first Danger Close was a partnership between three non-profits: 49 Writers, NYC-based Words After War, and Alaska Humanities Forum. Every Danger Close since has involved 49 Writers and Alaska Humanities Forum, to say nothing of the individuals involved along the way who worked so hard to make each offering happen.

Over the years, we’ve tinkered with the format. 2017, 2018, and 2019: each year was unique and special to me in its own way. Then came COVID. I’m glad we’re back in 2022, after a two-year hiatus. Once again, we’re doing some things the same, and some things different. Danger Close continues to take place due to the support of Alaska Humanities Forum. And the Danger Close mission of building community between veterans and civilians through the act of writing remains the same as it ever was. Brian Castner, whose war memoir The Long Walk I read that hot East African summer of 2014, and whom I invited up for Danger Close 2017, is returning with his recently published Stampede, a book on the Yukon Gold Rush, under his belt.

But this time, we’re reaching into new communities. For the first time, Danger Close is going to Fairbanks. Brian’s going to spend time in classrooms before fellow veteran Chris Miles chats with him at a Crosscurrents event. And in Anchorage, Brian and I are going to support the National Endowment for the Arts’ Creative Forces program by offering a workshop to current and former traumatic brain injury patients on Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson. This is in addition to the memoir workshop he’s running Saturday afternoon, and the Crosscurrents he and I will do Saturday night at the Museum.

My favorite thing about Danger Close is watching the lights come on. Like mine did that first MFA residency. Surrounded by creative energy and passion, fueled by thought-provoking reading and discussion: it’s almost impossible not to discover something about yourself as a writer. Something maybe you didn’t think was possible. A new way of seeing your work, informed by the inputs and inspiration of others. It’s magical. I hope you’ll join us.


Matt Komatsu is a writer and currently-serving veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who received an MFA from the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Creative Writing (Nonfiction) Program. He coordinated the five prior Danger Close events between 2016-2020 and has strong ties to both current military members and veterans in Alaska. He currently serves as nonfiction editor for the journal War, Literature and the Arts and his work has been widely featured nationally in such publications as the New York Times and Esquire. Both his military and writing careers have given him a strong commitment to the mission of the humanities: to engage, connect and inform.

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