When National Book Award-winning graduate of the Hunter College MFA program Phil Klay left the Marines a decade ago, after serving as an officer in Iraq, he found himself a part of the community of veterans grappling with the meaning of their wartime experiences. In Uncertain Ground, Klay’s new collection of introspective and urgent essays, he contends with the longtime link between war and American identity—asking what current and recent wars say about who we are as a country, and how we should respond to them as citizens. To discuss these and other questions integral to the relationship between American citizenship and the country’s ongoing military engagements, the author will be in conversation with Hunter College MFA program faculty member, memoirist, and fiction writer Saïd Sayrafiezadeh.

Unlike in previous eras of war, observes Klay, relatively few Americans have had to do any real grappling with what he calls the endless, invisible conflicts of the post-9/11 world; in fact, he writes, increasingly few people are even aware they are still going on. This chasm between the military and the civilian in American life forms the central theme of Uncertain Ground, in which Klay reckons with some of the country’s thorniest concerns: in the name of what do we expect young Americans to kill, and to die? And in the name of what does this country hang together? Published separately over a decade-plus span, these important and eye-opening essays together form an evolving and revealing examination of the effects of 20 years of war in a divided America.

According to the Wall Street Journal: “Uncertain Ground solidifies Mr. Klay’s place among the best of an increasing number of writers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and, while recounting their experiences in combat realistically and unheroically, raise profound questions about the nature of contemporary warfare.”


Phil Klay (MFA ’11) is a veteran of the US Marine Corps and the author of Redeployment, which won the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction, and Missionaries, which was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2020 by the Wall Street Journal. His writing has appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic. He currently teaches fiction at Fairfield University, and is a Board member for Arts in the Armed Forces.

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh leads the creative nonfiction track in Hunter College’s MFA program and is the author, most recently, of the story collection American Estrangement, a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize. His memoir, When Skateboards Will Be Free, was selected as one of the 10 best books of the year by The New York Times, and his story collection, Brief Encounters With the Enemy, was a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Fiction Prize.

Phil Klay — Uncertain Ground: Citizenship in an Age of Endless, Invisible War | Posted on November 7th, 2022 | Book Discussions, Public Programs