O’Brien to Read from ‘The Things They Carried’

Award-winning writer Tim O’Brien, author of “The Things They Carried,” will read from his work on the OBU campus on Wednesday, April 27, in one of only two appearances in the state as part of the Pioneer Library System’s “Big Read” program.

The event will be in the Geiger Center, rooms 218-19, at 7 p.m. Following the reading, O’Brien will answer questions and autograph copies of his novel.

“This is a rare opportunity to hear a master storyteller and National Book Award winner read from his most famous novel, ‘The Things They Carried,’” said Dr. William Hagen, professor of English at OBU. “I think those who attend will be surprised to find how memories of war and inner conflict can actually affirm the human spirit to carry on.”

Born into the Baby Boomer generation in 1946, O’Brien attended Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., where he majored in political science. Before he graduated in 1968, he had written and demonstrated against the Vietnam War. He was drafted in 1969 and served with the 46th infantry, stationed in Quang Ngai Province. His tour of duty was cut short in 1970 by shrapnel, and he received a Purple Heart. He attended graduate school at Harvard and worked for a short time for The Washington Post.

O’Brien started writing his war experiences in 1969, eventually collecting them in “If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home.” Among other works, he later wrote the National Book Award winner “Going After Cacciato,” published in 1978, and the Pulitzer Prize finalist “The Things They Carried,” published in 1990. He teaches creative writing in the master of fine arts program at Texas State University-San Marcos.

“In spite of a number of signals that it is not fictional, Tim O’Brien insists that the stories and characters in ‘The Things They Carried’ are all invented although he admits that events and people are based upon his experiences,” Hagen said. “Among other things, O’Brien claims that the novel is ‘about storytelling,’ the narratives we carry about ourselves and others.”

Hagen said O’Brien’s misgivings about the necessity and morality of the war and the rationale for opposition are never fully expressed.

“Instead he delivers a soldier’s experiences during and after the war, the events and relationships that alter one’s whole outlook,” Hagen said. “The reality of Vietnam, for those who survived, was what it did to one’s body and consciousness.”

For more information about the Pioneer Library System’s Big Read program, click here.