Tim O’Brien

Tim O’Brien, National Book Award winner, is author of The Things They Carried, is an American fiction writer who concentrates primarily on stories of the Vietnam War and the impact the war had on the American soldiers who fought there. He regularly teaches in the MFA creative writing program at Minnesota West Technical College in Worthington, Minnesota and currently holds the Mitte Chair in Creative Writing at the MFA program of Texas State University-San Marcos. He was born in Austin, MN, a town of about 9,000 people (a setting which figures prominently in his novels). When O’Brien was ten, his family, including a younger sister and brother, moved to Worthington, MN, a place that once billed itself as “the turkey capital of the world.” Worthington had a large influence on O ‘Brien ‘s imagination and early development as an author. The town is located on Lake Okabena in the western portion of the state and serves as the setting for some of his stories, especially those in The Things They Carried. He earned his BA in Political Science from Macalester College in 1968. That same year he was drafted into the infantry and was sent to Vietnam, where he served from 1968 to 1970. He served in the Americal Division, a platoon of which participated in the infamous My Lai Massacre. O’Brien has said that when his unit got to the area around My Lai (referred to as “Pinkville” by the U.S. forces), “we all wondered why the place was so hostile. We did not know there had been a massacre there a year earlier. The news about that only came out later, while we were there, and then we knew.” Upon completing his tour of duty, O’Brien went on to graduate school at Harvard University and received an internship at the Washington Post. His writing career was launched in 1973 with the release of If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, about his war experiences. In this memoir, O’Brien writes: “Can the foot soldier teach anything important about war, merely for having been there? I think not. He can tell war stories.”