Professor gives veterans, families a voice in new novel and writing course

April 15, 2013

Veterans and Military Service Members Celebrations

UW-Whitewater honors and celebrates the service and accomplishments of our military veterans and service members. Photography by Craig Schreiner.

Erin CelelloWorking as a press assistant for a former Wisconsin governor, Erin Celello remembers the numerous times she met with grieving family and friends of veterans.

"I saw firsthand what these families went through, and the outlook on those sacrifices and hardships stuck with me," said Celello, now a UW-Whitewater assistant professor of languages and literatures.

These experiences would become the inspiration for "Learning To Stay," a novel about a soldier who returns from Iraq a much different man and the wife torn between staying with him or moving on with her life.

Celello conducted extensive research on veteran affairs for her novel, working with military personnel for authentication purposes, and read hundreds of blogs written by military spouses. Personal interviews and testimonials provided information about veterans living with brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, as did academic research about these diagnoses and treatments.

"It was a blessing and curse, not having any background or personal connections with military personnel," said Celello. "The curse is that I had to conduct so much more research, but the blessing is that I was allowed to have a more open mind about this topic."

After "Learning To Stay" was released, Celello began creating an English composition course intended for veterans, ROTC members and military family members.

"The goals of this course are to provide an in-class community to these students, and to be reasonable with their thought processes, since critical thought is not emphasized in the military like it is through a university," said Celello. "Giving UW-Whitewater's dedication to the veteran community, I thought this course would be a great fit for the campus."

Celello is also a writing tutor for the Veterans Writing Project, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that allows veterans to participate in seminars and workshops to improve their writing abilities.

"I've learned that not having a background with the military or veterans does not mean you can't make a difference within the community," said Celello. "Skills that one already possesses can be used to help give back to individuals that have sacrificed so much for our country, and I am more than happy to do that."

For more information on Celello's novel "Learning To Stay", visit


Sara Kuhl

Jeff Angileri

Learning to Stay