PLAY: Hearing the Silent Voices of Women, 'Coming in Hot' Tells Stories of Servicewomen from Vietnam to Iraq

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Monday, October 11, 2010 - 20:00
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Bringing her play about women in the military to the area in February will be a homecoming of sorts for Lisa Bowden, who grew up in Fair Haven.

“Coming in Hot,” a play based on the novel “Powder: Writing by Women in Ranks, From Vietnam to Iraq,” will be performed in New York Feb. 6-12 at the Bowery Poetry Club, and Bowden, who is coadapter, director and producer of the one-woman play, is hoping the play's national tour will include a production mounted in New Jersey.

The play takes the form of dramatic readings of stories written by women soldiers.

“Coming in Hot” just wrapped up a 23-performance “National Discourse” grassroots tour in Tucson, Ariz., where Bowden now lives and works.

But her roots are local: she was raised in Fair Haven/Rumson, and her parents, George Bowden and Ann Norton, and stepmother Gladys Bowden were and are active members of the Red Bank area community.

The 14 characters in “Coming in Hot” are performed by Jeanmarie Simpson alongside renowned composer musician Vicki Brown. During the performance, a screen hangs on the wall behind the artists so projections have a large, temporary presence on an otherwise bare set.

The stories adapted for the stage are from air traffic controllers, medics, Arabic linguists, sonar technicians, bodyguards and interrogators. She noted that the form the play takes now is a dramatic reading, with music and projected images. It is not a staged production at this point. There is a group in Wisconsin that will be producing it with a cast of actors.

Bowden can be considered a local success story, who has taken the road less traveled. She is a poet who works with dancers and musicians and she is the publisher and co-founder of Kore Press, a nonprofit publishing company that focuses on supporting women writers.

In addition, she is the editor of Autumnal: A Collection of Elegies, and co-editor with Shannon Cain of the book the play is based on, “Powder: Writing by Women in the Ranks, From Vietnam to Iraq.”

Bowden is also a book and graphic designer, garnering a few design awards along the way, including an ADDY. She has served on nonprofit boards for 20 years, and currently is on the advisory board of GirlsWrite Now.Agraduate of the University of Arizona, Bowden has spent time in London and Barcelona.

Bowden said reading was a passionwhen she was a child, so becoming a publisher and writer is a logical extension. While she was still in grade school, she won an award one summer from the Fair Haven library for reading the most books.

“I wrote stories in grade school and poems, but started thinking about writing as a thing to do while in high school, encouraged by teachers there like Mr. Berberich, my senior-year English teacher, who was hysterically funny and dry. I wrote in college, then really got on the other side of language as a publisher and bookmaker. It has been in the last few years that I have turned back to focus on my own writing.”

In addition, she noted that there were too few female writers on her college reading lists.

“I remember distinctly feeling like I had to do something about the silent voices of women. I wanted to hear what women had to say for a change,” she said.

She knew that there were many women producing, writing, creating, contributing and working, but their voices were not being heard loudly enough.

“Why were there no women on Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2009 list in a year when new books appeared by writers such as Lorrie Moore, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, Rita Dove, Heather McHugh and Alicia Ostriker?” she asks.

“We [women] all experience sexism, whether you are aware of it or not,” she said.

In addition to feeling as though she needed to do more to support literary women, she explained, “The idea of giving back and being an active part of your community, making a difference in the world, was very much an organic part of my household growing up.”

Her mother, who passed away in September 2006, was the executive director of Mobile Meals and did volunteer work over the years for HABcore, the American Red Cross and other social service agencies. She was also politically active and wrote frequent letters to the editor.

“I helped my mom deliver meals. I visited and took care of an elderly woman when I was in high school. I was the youngest walker one year in Monmouth County's Walk for Mankind as a kid. You just did these things as a citizen of the planet,” she said.

Her father has worked to preserve the historic fabric of Red Bank as a member of Preservation Red Bank and the Red Bank Historic Preservation Commission, Bowden said.

“My dad has always been an artist and had his own packaging business. So I definitely saw a lot of entrepreneurial drive, the freedom and hard work, independence and responsibility, and a lot of art — making art and looking at museums and galleries.”

Bowden, who graduated from Rumson- Fair Haven Regional High School in 1983, then graduated from the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she decided to stay and create a life. After graduating, Bowden started a nonprofit publishing company and has been the publisher/art director for 17 years.

Kore Press publishes literature by women and runs community-centered creative writing programs for teenage girls, she said.

“Coming in Hot” has been endorsed by many organization and individuals. They include Veterans for Peace, Tucson; Cindy Sheehan, peace activist, Gold Star Mothers for Peace; as well as Jeremy Cole of San Francisco, director, Amnesty International activist and script consultant, who said, “ ‘Coming in Hot' is a stunning collection of stories told in an array of voices, each with its own unique perspective on the topic of war. These stories — emotional, thoughtful and compelling — would be impressive in any context, but are made even more so by the fact that they come from those long-overlooked heroes — the women of the American military.”

Bowden believes the play is timeless.

“This is deeply human work, done with admiration and sympathy for humankind, in all our complex predicaments. Spare, tense, socially committed, complicated, at times hypnotic, ‘Coming in Hot' hits a national nerve. We must let the audience bring themselves into the stories and the subjects they present — women in combat, the discrimination and harassment they face while serving, rape, the extremely high rates of soldier suicide and PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], courage, the difficulty returning female vets have with a benefits system geared toward men. Our culture is wrestling with all these problems right now.”

For booking information and touring schedule, visit