Phil Klay

Phil Klay
Klay at the 2015 PEN Literary Awards Ceremony
Born Phil Klay
Westchester, New York, U.S.
Occupation Author of short stories, essays
Alma mater Dartmouth College
Subject Combat, military affairs
Notable works Redeployment
Notable awards National Book Award for fiction

Phil Klay (/ˈkl/; born 1983) is an American writer. He won the National Book Award for fiction in 2014 for his first book-length publication, a collection of short stories, Redeployment. In 2014 the National Book Foundation named him a 5 under 35 honoree. He was a United States Marine officer from 2005 to 2009.

Early life

Klay grew up in Westchester, New York,[1] the son of Marie-Therese F. Klay and William D. Klay.[2] He attended Regis High School in New York City, graduating in 2001.[3]

Education and military career

During the summer of 2004, while a student at Dartmouth College, where he played rugby and boxed, Klay attended Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia.[4] He graduated from Dartmouth College in 2005 and then joined the U.S. Marines, where he was commissioned as a second lieutenant.[5] He later explained that:[6]

I knew we were going to war, and I joined for the reasons that many people serve. My family always had a strong respect for public service. I wanted to be part of a cause greater than myself. I was thinking of it as a historic moment, and I wanted to put myself in a position of responsibility so I could hopefully affect things for the better.

During the U.S. troop surge in Iraq, he served for thirteen months in Anbar province[1] in Iraq from January 2007 to February 2008.[3] He left the military in 2009 and then earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from Hunter College in 2011.[4]

He described his time in the military as "a very mild deployment" as a Public Affairs Officer. He said that he wrote his collection of short stories based on his service and return to civilian life because:[7]

...what I really want — and I think what a lot of veterans want — is a sense of serious engagement with the wars, because it's important, because it matters, because lives are at stake, and it's something we did as a nation. That's something that deserves to be thought about very seriously and very honestly, without resorting to the sort of comforting stories that allow us to tie a bow on the experience and move on.

He has objected to the way civilians distance themselves from military experience:[8]

[V]eterans need an audience that is both receptive and critical. Believing war is beyond words is an abrogation of responsibility — it lets civilians off the hook from trying to understand, and veterans off the hook from needing to explain. You don't honor someone by telling them, "I can never imagine what you've been through." Instead, listen to their story and try to imagine being in it, no matter how hard or uncomfortable that feels.... [I]n the age of an all-volunteer military, it is far too easy for Americans to send soldiers on deployment after deployment without making a serious effort to imagine what that means.

He has described how "the gap between public mythology and lived experience" even affects both veteran-civilian dialogue and the veteran self-perception:[9]

[T]he mythologies are part of the experience of war. Often, we use them to try to make sense of what we've been through. We signed up with all those stories in our heads, after all, and then we came home to all the stories about war our culture was telling itself. Trying to have a conversation with someone (or even an honest conversation with yourself) about your war experience is an exercise in navigating through all the cultural garbage that's out there.

The culture, according to Klay, presents hurdles to communication and a shared understanding:[4]

One of the very strange things about coming home from the modern wars is you're coming home to a country where such a small percentage of the population is serving. You get a positive reception when people find out that you're a veteran, for the most part, but mostly what people feel very keenly is a kind of apathy: a disconnect from the fact that we're a nation at war. You come home and find out that the American people aren't really paying attention and that is profoundly strange. The ability to bridge that gap is important. Veterans don't want to feel isolated, and in order to do that you need to find some way of getting your memories and relationships to those memories across to someone whose notions of what you've been doing are very vague and defined frequently by a variety of clichés.

Writing career

Klay's collection of short stories, Redeployment, was published in March 2014. Writing in the Daily Beast, Brian Castner described the book "a clinic in the profanities of war". He wrote:[10]

If there is a flaw to be found here it is only one of narrowness; all of these narrators are American men and most are Marines. But the voices are strong and varied, and we hear from enlisted men and officers, chaplains and lawyers, State Department do-gooders and college students, and, of course, many grunts. The book contains plenty of blood-dead-hajji-fuck-kill-love, but also stories that violate innocence and faith itself. If obscenity scrapes just the skin then through the narrative arc of tragedy and suffering Klay has managed to dig down to the organs.

In November 2014, Klay won the National Book Award for fiction for his collection of short stories Redeployment. The judges described it as a "brutal, piercing sometimes darkly funny collection" that "stakes Klay's claim for consideration as the quintessential storyteller of America’s Iraq conflict."[1] In his acceptance speech, he said: "I can't think of a more important conversation to be having — war's too strange to be processed alone. I want to thank everyone who picked up the book, who read it and decided to join the conversation."[11][12] He was the first author to win the prize for his first book-length work of fiction since Julia Glass in 2002.[13] He had been thought "something of a longshot" to win.[14] The New York Times included Redeployment on its list of the "Ten Best Books of 2014",[15] and it received the National Book Critics Circle's 2014 John Leonard Award given for a best first book in any genre.[16] In 2015, he received the James Webb Award for fiction dealing with Marines or Marine Corps life from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation for Redeployment.[17] In June 2015, Redeployment received the W.Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction from the American Library Association.[18]

He has described Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin, as his "mentor".[14] He describes himself as a Catholic and "a fan of a lot of ... the great Catholic literature–Flannery O'Connor, Francois Mauriac, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh." He has said that "religion and the tradition of Catholic thought ... helps you ask the right kinds of questions about these issues... There's a type of religious sentiment that is very certain of the answers and very certain about what should be proselytized. And then there's another type of religious tradition which is really much more about ... doubt and working your way towards more and more difficult questions. And I think that's the tradition that appeals to me."[19]

He is a contributor to Granta.[20] He has also reviewed fiction for The New York Times,[21] The Washington Post,[22] and Newsweek.[23] His stories have appeared in collections as well, including The Best American Non-Required Reading 2012 (Mariner Books) and Fire and Forget (Da Capo Press, 2013). He has conducted several interviews with other writers and published them on The Rumpus.[24]

Princeton University named him a Hodder Fellow for the 2015-2016 academic year.[25] In 2018, he headed the five-member jury that awarded the first Aspen Words Literary Prize.[26] In July 2018, Klay was named 2018 winner of the George W. Hunt, S.J., Prize for Journalism, Arts & Letters in the category Cultural & Historical Criticism.[27]

Personal life

He married Jessica Alvarez, an attorney, on February 15, 2014.[2]

Selected writings


  1. 1 2 3 Kelly, Keith J. (November 20, 2014). "Phil Klay wins National Book Award for 'Redeployment'". New York Post. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  2. 1 2 "Jessica Alvarez and Phil Klay". The New York Times. February 9, 2014. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  3. 1 2 "Writing Iraq: An Interview with Phil Klay '01 and a Review of his New Book, Redeployment". Regis High School. March 5, 2014. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  4. 1 2 3 Kane, Alexander J. (May 17, 2014). "An Interview With Phil Klay". The Dartmouth Review. Retrieved November 21, 2014.
  5. Powers, John (March 26, 2014). "Redeployment Explores Iraq War's Physical And Psychic Costs". NPR. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  6. Asoulin, Rebecca (March 30, 2014). "Klay '05 pens short stories about Iraq". The Dartmouth. Retrieved November 21, 2014.
  7. "Reminder From A Marine: Civilians And Veterans Share Ownership Of War". NPR. March 6, 2014. Retrieved November 21, 2014.
  8. Klay, Phil (February 8, 2014). "After War, a Failure of the Imagination". The New York Times. Retrieved November 21, 2014.
  9. Rubenstein, Rebecca. "Interview with Phil Klay, 2014 National Book Award Finalist, Fiction". National Book Foundation. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  10. Castner, Brian (March 1, 2014). "The Profanity of War: Phil Klay's Redeployment". The Daily Beast. Retrieved November 23, 2014.
  11. "Redeployment, Age Of Ambition Win National Book Awards". NPR. November 19, 2014. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  12. Catapano, Peter (November 20, 2014). "For Phil Klay, a National Book Award Winner, War Is 'Too Strange' to Process Alone". The New York Times. Retrieved November 21, 2014.
  13. Italie, Hillel (November 20, 2014). "Phil Klay Wins National Book Award for Fiction". ABC News. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  14. 1 2 Alter, Alexandra (November 20, 2014). "Phil Klay's Literary Salon on the F Train". The New York Times. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  15. "The 10 Best Books of 2014". The New York Times. December 4, 2014. Retrieved December 4, 2014.
  16. "National Book Critics Circle Announces Finalists for Publishing Year 2014".
  17. "Awards". Marine Corps Heritage Foundation. Retrieved December 15, 2016.
  18. "'Redeployment' by Phil Klay wins the 2015 W. Y. Boyd Literary Award 'for Excellence in Military Fiction'". American Library Association (Press release). Retrieved December 15, 2016.
  19. "In 'Redeployment,' Former Marine Explores The Challenges Of Coming Home". Fresh Air. NPR. November 25, 2014. Retrieved March 21, 2015.
  20. "Contributors: Phil Klay". Granta. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  21. Klay, Phil (June 26, 2014). "Troubled Inquisitor". The New York Times. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  22. Klay, Phil (October 3, 2014). "Book review: 'One Million Steps: A Marine Platoon at War,' by Bing West". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  23. Klay, Phil (November 13, 2013). "Still Wanted, Dead or Alive". Newsweek. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  24. "Posts by Phil Klay". The Rumpus. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
  25. "Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton Announces Hodder Fellows for 2015-2016". Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton (Press release). February 13, 2015. Retrieved December 15, 2016.
  26. Dwyer, Colin (March 5, 2018). "Aspen Words Literary Prize Finalists 'Capture The Messiness Of Reality'". NPR. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  27. "Phil Klay named 2018 Hunt Prize winner". America (Press release). 5 July 2018. Retrieved 5 July 2018.
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