Photo Above: David Glerean, 1998

Photo Tim O'BrienTim O'Brien is from small town Minnesota. He was born in Austin on October 1, 1946, a birth date he shares with several of his characters (as well as with his webmaster!), and grew up in Worthington, "Turkey Capital of the World."

He matriculated at Macalester College. Graduation in 1968 found him with a BA in political science and a draft notice.

O'Brien was against the war, but reported for service and was sent to Vietnam with what has been called the "unlucky" Americal division due to its involvement in the My Lai massacre in 1968, an event which figures prominently in In the Lake of the Woods.. He was assigned to 3rd Platoon, A Co., 5th Batt. 46th Inf., as an infantry foot soldier. O'Brien's tour of duty was 1969-70.

After Vietnam he became a graduate student at Harvard. No doubt he was one of very few Vietnam veterans there at that time, much less Combat Infantry Badge (CIB) holders. Having the opportunity to do an internship at the Washington Post, he eventually left Harvard to become a newspaper reporter. O'Brien's career as a reporter gave way to his fiction writing after publication of his memoir If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Send Me Home.

Tim O'Brien is now a visiting professor and endowed chair at Southwest Texas State University where he teaches in the Creative Writing Program. He is on the advisory board for The Ridenhour Prizes. O'Brien's archive is held by the Harry Ransom Center (slideshow) in Austin, Texas.

© Photo - Marilyn Knapp Litt 2002 - Permission granted to reuse with photo credit.
(High resolution version available.)


"A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil. "

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Quotes by Tim O'Brien

  • National Book Award in fiction - Going After Cacciato

  • France's Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger - The Things They Carried

  • Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize - The Things They Carried

  • Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award - The Things They Carried

  • James Fenimore Cooper Prize from the Society of American Historians - In The Lake of the Woods

  • Named best novel of the year by Time magazine - In The Lake of the Woods

  • National Magazine Award - short story: The Things They Carried

  • Included in The Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike - short story: The Things They Carried

    • American Academy of Arts and Letters

    • Guggenheim Foundation

    • National Endowment for the Arts.

    • Society of American Historians

    • American Academy of Arts and Sciences

    Updated August 25, 2010