Tim O'Brien

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Voice Of Vietnam War To 'Carry' Out Reading At SHSU

“A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.”

It is a sentence, found in what many consider American novelist Tim O’Brien’s most well known book The Things They Carried, but it is also representative of his art as a whole.

Tim O'Brien reads for the MFA Creative Writing programO’Brien—whose unique writing style is characterized by his tendencies to relay his experiences through a metafictional approach, blurring the lines between fiction and reality—will visit the Sam Houston State University campus on April 3-4 for a public reading and a workshop with students in the English department’s Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing.

The National Book Award-winning author will give a reading of his work on Wednesday (April 3), at 6 p.m. in the James and Nancy Gaertner Performing Arts Center Concert Hall.

“It’s a particular privilege for us to be able to bring Mr. O’Brien to campus,” said Scott Kaukonen, director of the MFA program in creative writing. “He’s almost inarguably recognized as the most significant voice in American fiction to emerge from the Vietnam War.

“When we think of fiction and war, we often associate certain writers with certain wars, in particular their representation of the soldier’s experience of that war: Stephen Crane and the American Civil War; Ernest Hemingway and World War I; Norman Mailer, Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut and World War II. For the Vietnam War, it’s Tim O’Brien.”

A native of Minnesota, O’Brien served in Vietnam, and then came home to write about it. He debuted with his 1973 memoir, If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, but his writing soon shifted from memoir to fiction and, as scholars have noted, from the war itself to the soldiers’ experiences of war and all that it entails—the going, the coming, the waiting, the humping, the fear and the courage, the boredom and the routine, the returning home and the never really leaving, Kaukonen said.

O’Brien’s hallucinatory novel, Going After Cacciato, about a soldier who one day lays down his rifle and leaves the battlefield of Vietnam to walk the 8,600 miles to Paris for the peace talks and the unit charged with the task of pursuing him, won the 1979 National Book Award. But O’Brien’s most famous work may be the collection of autobiographical, linked short stories, The Things They Carried, which was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. The title story is among the most widely anthologized short stories of the past 40 years and was selected by John Updike for The Best American Short Stories of the Century.

“O’Brien’s novels are not about the war in the sense of its politics or its military strategy, or even in the sense of an unfolding anticipation toward and then execution of battle,” Kaukonen said. “Rather, his novels anatomize the soldier’s experience, both internal and external, real and imagined, what was and what might have been and what could be. They’re full of horror and courage, yes, but also love and beauty and shame and guilt and cowardice and wonder and humanity.”

O’Brien has become noted in his writing of fiction for his distinction between factual truth and “story-truth.”

Though a character named Tim O’Brien appears throughout The Things They Carried, O’Brien isn’t as interested as a writer in pinning down the location of certain units and certain men at certain times and places of battle, but rather his work pursues the emotional truth of the men’s experiences with the war as an unavoidable context. As his narrator says in “How to Tell a True War Story,” “That’s a true story that never happened.”

Of The Things They Carried, Robert R. Harris of the New York Times wrote, “By moving beyond the horror of the fighting to examine with sensitivity and insight the nature of courage and fear, by questioning the role that imagination plays in helping to form our memories and our own versions of truth, he places The Things They Carried high up on the list of best fiction about any war. [. . .] The overall effect of these original tales is devastating.”

O’Brien’s novel In the Lake of the Woods won the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction in 1995. His other novels include Northern Lights, Tomcat in Love, The Nuclear Age, and July, July. He currently teaches in the MFA program in creative writing at Texas State University in San Marcos.

Books will be available for purchase and for signing following the event.

For more information, contact Kaukonen at kaukonen@shsu.edu or 936.294.1407.

Originally published by Today@SAM on March 18, 2013
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer GaunttScott Kaukonen

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