While deployed in Afghanistan as a public affairs officer in the Air Force, Creative Writing graduate student Lauren Johnson, MFA ’14, looked forward to reading her monthly Glamour magazine as an escape.
This year, Johnson, 30, won Glamour’s “My Real-Life Story” essay contest for her piece about the difficulty of adjusting to life after the Air Force.
The essay is about her first visit to a mental health clinic. She felt guilty about feeling depressed and anxious because she had never been in a combat role.
“There are a lot of people who aren’t on the traditional front lines but are still exposed to the stress and dangers of living day to day in a war zone,” she said. “I felt like that is a conversation that doesn’t really exist and it’s part of what contributed to my struggle and feeling like I was alone in struggling.”
Johnson spent four and a half years in the Air Force. As a public affairs officer, she wrote press releases and documented the Air Force’s efforts.
On one of her missions, she was deployed to Afghanistan for nine months. Johnson said one of the most rewarding parts about working there was speaking with the local women in the southeastern region of Afghanistan, where there is strong segregation between genders.
“They don’t allow American males to talk to the women,” she said. “So as one of seven women on our team, with the help of a female interpreter, I was privy to a side of Afghan culture that a lot of people aren’t. I was able to talk to women about their hopes for the future of their country.”
After leaving the military, Johnson knew she wanted to continue writing. When looking for schools, she said she liked Emerson because of its reputation and the diversity of the faculty.
“I actually got a phone call from the program director encouraging me to check out the program,” she said. “I thought that was really indicative of not only the quality of the program, but the relationship that the administration tries to have with its students.”
In her first workshop class at Emerson, she handed in her essay. “I turned it in and then had kind of a minor panic attack. What are these people going to think? Are they going to judge me?” Johnson said. “But actually they were really helpful and wanted to hear about it. The feedback that I got from them really encouraged me to keep going and writing about that experience.”
After a few more workshops, Johnson submitted her essay to the Glamour contest. She received a call over the summer informing her that she had won. She was given $5,000, a professional photo shoot and an article featured in the magazine, as well as a meeting with a New York literary agent.
Johnson hopes to someday turn her thesis into a book.