Alumni / Summer 2017

Veteran Steven Dunn finds his voice

Steven Dunn’s debut novel, “Potted Meat,” was nominated for a 2017 Colorado Book Award. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Steven Dunn thought he was a painter until his girlfriend (now wife) pointed out the number of words he used in his paintings. That’s when he realized his true calling was writing.

“I knew that I wasn’t doing what I needed to do with painting,” says Dunn (BA ’14). “I felt like I wasn’t getting something, and I didn’t realize that I was substituting that with words. I had always been a reader, and when I started writing, I knew it was what I needed to be doing.”

So after 10 years in the Navy, Dunn moved to Denver, where he had once been stationed, and enrolled in DU’s creative writing program. A 28-year-old freshman in 2010, Dunn is now an alumnus whose debut novel—which started out as his undergraduate thesis—was nominated for a 2017 Colorado Book Award.

Published by Tarpaulin Sky Press, Dunn’s “Potted Meat” is inspired by his childhood in an impoverished West Virginia town. In short, fragmented chapters, characters struggle with poverty, racial tensions, abusive parents and alcohol addiction. The book’s style, Dunn says, was born of a revelation that came from the fiction he read in classes taught by DU English professors Selah Saterstrom and Laird Hunt.

“They weren’t very mainstream books, and they articulated concerns that I didn’t know I had,” he says. “I wasn’t exposed to that many books outside of the mainstream, so I was just tired of writing and tired of books. The books that they gave me gave me permission to do what I thought was possible.”

Dunn participates in a writing group with a number of his former DU classmates; he also appears regularly at the F-Bomb flash fiction series at Denver’s Mercury Café and at Don’t Yell At Me, a monthly reading series in Boulder County. With another military veteran, Lorenzo James, Dunn started a monthly reading series that focuses on giving space to writers of color. He also helps run the Denver Veterans Writing Workshop with fellow veteran Jason Arment.

Dunn has fully embraced his life as a writer—and he is gratified that readers are connecting with “Potted Meat” in the same way he has connected with favorite books and their authors.

“A lot of people have emailed me and said, ‘I really identify with this’ or ‘This happened to me, and now I have a way to talk about it,’ which felt good because I’ve gotten that from a lot of books before too,” says Dunn, who just finished a book about his experiences in the military. “It was like, ‘Wow, I get to contribute to this thing that I’ve already loved and gotten so much from.’”


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