Erin Celello

Erin Celello

Playwright's Muse
By Rachel Werner | Photographed by Kaia Calhoun

A thought-provoking combination of self-reflection and social commentary, Erin Celello’s second novel “Learning to Stay,” about the impact a war veteran’s difficult return has on his family and marriage, debuts at Forward Theater this month in a captivating adaptation by American Players Theatre legend Jim DeVita.

What is your personal connection to your book’s explored themes?

I worked for a number of years in Gov. Doyle’s communications shop during the height of the Iraq War. He never missed a military funeral for a Wisconsin service member. Spending a few days a week on the road with him, I also attended a fair number of those funerals. They were heartbreaking and not things you easily forget.

Explain the plot’s backstory.

After traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder started to come up more and more frequently in the news during those early years of the war, the question of loyalty to the person you married when they were no longer the same person—combined with seeing firsthand the aftermath of families making the ultimate sacrifice—ignited the sparks for this story.

Would you rather see a play or go to the movies?

I love the arts: ballet, theater and the symphony. I go as often as one can with two little kids. Some of the best productions I’ve seen have been at Forward and American Players theaters. And my all-time favorite might be “An Illiad”—the one-man show that Jim DeVita did last year. Between the art and the intensity, it was mind-blowing incredible.

You are a writing professor at UW-Whitewater. Does that career make it easier for you to write?

Writing a good book is difficult, hands down. It’s always easier to make suggestions than it is to follow them yourself, isn’t it? So, too, in writing.

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