J. Holley Watts
Born and raised in Freeport, New York, Holley spent her years since high school visiting Long Island friends and family briefly, and never quite succumbing to the accent. She went to Pennsylvania for college, majoring in Psychology and after graduation intended to travel. When she was accepted into the American Red Cross SRAO program she discovered a post-graduate education not offered by any university in the world, unprecedented travel opportunities and one where she could study Regional Accents 101 abroad. That it was also exciting, horrible, wonderful, frightening and forever memorable is worth noting.
Over the course of three decades in public TV and radio fund-raising she honed her public speaking and creative writing skills. She discovered several things about writing - getting to the point was the point, allowing readers to ‘fill in the blanks’ was more powerful than spelling it out for them, incorporating humor was essential and the pictures they created were always surprising.
The genesis of the content of Who Knew?… Reflections on Vietnam came from her public speaking notes, and her style?… She has no idea… but it’s been a fantastic ride so far. The combination of pictures and brief pieces just seemed to fit. Apparently others thought so too. Within 6 months she presented her self-published book of 104 pages and 126 mostly color pictures in a lecture at the Library of Congress (Washington, DC), was a featured author in the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, VA and was interviewed by Scott Simon on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday (Linked on her Website). The book’s first printing of 1000 is almost sold out.
Who Knew?… has found its way into Vet Centers around the country. Some report certainly Vietnam vets but also returning Iraq/Afghanistan veterans and their spouses have found its writing style cathartic. Holley says her book is a war story without the blood and a love story without the sex. Her website states, “It will just take you an hour to read it… the first time.” That’s where it begins. It lets the reader in for a non-threatening peak that can (and has) open doors closed for decades. It’s not without humor—there’s plenty… from chuckle to guffaw.
Not a keeper or diaries or journals but slides and pictures, Holley’s written entries were made mostly on their sides and backs and it was from there she drew her memoirs. In a James Madison University’s freshman orientation facilitators’ workshop on Vietnam she read an excerpt about coming home from her collection of pieces. It was a professor’s query about where he could find her book on the web that inspired her to consider actually writing one.
Her book caught the attention of Arrowhead Films of Austin, TX, makers of “In The Shadow of The Blade” and “An Ocean Away.” She was invited to co-write and narrate their documentary about the Donut Dollies called, “A Touch of Home: The Vietnam War’s Red Cross Girls.” In the summer of 2009 ATOH won First Prize for Short Documentary at The Third Annual GI Film Festival. DVDs are available through the arrowheadfilms.com website. Reception of the documentary by the public has been marvelous, she says, but despite its success she plans to stick to writing, editing and her poetry.