For two years, Matt Young has been one of Centralia College’s most popular English and creative writing instructors. His classes are tough, but he’s young and energetic, and the students adore him.
But, since his memoir, Eat the Apple, was released earlier this year, another side of Young has been revealed, one that includes gritty and disturbing details from his three tours in Iraq as an infantryman in the Marines Corps. He admits that, at points in the book, he’s “not a good person,” but confronting that truth was important to his recovery.
“It was traumatic recounting it,” he said. “You think it’s going to be like therapy, but I’m not a mental health professional and recounting those experiences was difficult. I was confronting the reality of who I was. There’s a hero narrative in the media that keeps being repeated. I didn’t have that experience and I thought that different perspective needed to be shared.”
The book has received glowing reviews in the national media. It’s been praised for its honesty and its frank handling of difficult and taboo subjects. Young was just 18 when he enlisted in the Marines. Much of the book is about navigating early manhood in a warzone.
“As a memoir, it loosely follows that most traditional of plots: a young man’s growth from innocence to experience. But that’s the only aspect of Young’s narrative that’s conventional,” wrote Maureen Corrigan for NPR’s book review. “Young is a frank, funny and mercilessly self-lacerating narrator. His writing is entertaining and experimental — two adjectives not often found together. To convey the chaos of his three deployments in Iraq, Young writes in choppy chapters filled with lists, letters, cartoons, plays and, yes, lots of stories.”
While Young admits it’s often “awkward” when his students read the book and know intimate details of his private, early life, he’s been humbled by the public’s reaction overall.
“The unexpected part was being embraced by most veterans and them being happy with the level of honesty in the book,” he said. “I’ve been writing opinion pieces around the #MeToo movement and masculinity, and I’ve received a lot of support from people who have read the book.”
Young has been making public appearances across the country in support of the book and is working through the early phases of a novel and another memoir, one that focuses on his recovery, adoption, and meeting his birth family. He’s also teaching at Centralia College.
“I really enjoy teaching the process of writing,” he said. “I’ve been teaching for five years and I tend to think about it like an academic. But, I still get excited about the nuances of composition.”
You can take a class with Young this summer; he’ll be teaching English 101 at CC.