Interviews & Lectures - Tim O'Brien


Mar 1990

Fresh Air (audio)

'O'Brien told Terry Gross that he only carried a few scattered memories of the war with him. "The way where if you picked up a photo album and paged through it, maybe seven or eight pictures would be really vivid and another 24 would be ones that you'd vaguely recollect . . . "'


Mar 1990

Wired (audio)

Interview with reading from Going After Cacciato



Apr 1990

NY Times

O'Brien talks about his upcoming return to Vietnam and his first trip.

'His reaction to the draft notice still surprises him. ''I went to my room in the basement and started pounding the typewriter,'' he recalled. ''I did it all summer. It was the most terrible summer of my life, worse than being in the war. My conscience kept telling me not to go, but my whole upbringing told me I had to. That horrible summer made me a writer. I don't know what I wrote. I've still got it, reams of it, but I'm not willing to look at it. It was just stuff - bitter, bitter stuff, and it's probably full of self-pity. But that was the beginning.'''



Artful Dodge

An early interview and one of the best.

"In other books of mine, though, I've done the third person, and I've done the first person obviously not me, the Dickens thing, which I like trying, I guess, like any writer. I don't fall into one stream. I can't imagine myself, for example, writing another book like The Things They Carried using that form, but I think The Things They Carried takes the form beyond what others do."


Oct 1994

David Louis Edelman

On publication of "In the Lake of the Woods" (full transcript)

Tim O’Brien wants to set the record straight: he is not a Vietnam writer. “It’s like calling Toni Morrison a black writer or Joseph Conrad an ocean writer or Shakespeare a royalty writer,” . . . I don’t write about bombs and bullets, I write about the human heart. It’s just the subject matter that was given to me.



Winter 94/95


On NY Times memoir piece, "The Vietnam in Me"

'Today, O'Brien has no regrets about publishing the article. He considers it one of the best things he has ever written. "I reread it maybe once every two months," he says, "just to remind myself what writing's for. I don't mean catharsis. I mean communication. It was a hard thing to do. It saved my life, but it was a fuck of a thing to print."'


Winter 1996

Mars Hill Review

"In the Name of Love" An Interview with Tim O'Brien By Scott Sawyer

Take Huckleberry Finn, for example. Every time you pick up that book and begin reading it again, Huck's alive. Even though he's never even existed in one sense-that is, in the physical-at some point when you're reading the book you stop saying, "This never happened." Huck is alive, and he's going down the river again.


Sep 1998

Bold Type

On publication of "Tomcat in Love"

"I did not set out to write another novel. One day I sat down with the thought of trying my hand at a piece of nonfiction, a personal memoir of youth, but over the next several weeks, without intending it, the work began evolving into what has become Tomcat in Love. "


Oct 1998

NPR (audio)

On publication of "Tomcat in Love"





On publication of "Tomcat in Love"

"A good piece of fiction, in my view, does not offer solutions.  Good stories deal with our moral struggles, our uncertainties, our dreams, our blunders, our contradictions, our endless quest for understanding.  Good stories do not resolve the mysteries of the human spirit but rather describe and expand up on those mysteries."



NY Times

Novelist Tim O'Brien Pursues 'Emotional Truth' by Bruce Weber (on publication of "Tomcat in Love")

"What's really true is not a philosophical thing; it's a plaguing thing," he said. "What does somebody really think? Does she really love you? And if she says she does, to what degree? If you stop loving someone, did you ever love them? If you say you're committed and later you're not committed, well, was the first thing commitment? You see what I mean? This kind of thing has always interested me."



Brown University

President's Lecture

"As a fiction writer, I do not write just about the world we live in, but I also write about the world we ought to live in, and could, which is a world of imagination."


Mar 1999


The Heart Under Stress: Interview with author Tim O'Brien by James Lindbloom

"It depends, like I guess all things do, on your angle of vision. One could argue, as Plato does, that truth is something abstract, just floating out there. Whether we remember a thing, imagine it, or know anything about it, is irrelevant; it's just out there. There are others who would argue — as I guess I do; I'm not much of a Platonist in that sense — that the human being shapes and determines what we call truth."


Feb 2001

Davidson University

Excerpts from Tim O'Brien's talk, "The Things That Writers Carry"

"You don't need to go to a war, climb a mountain, have cancer to be a writer. A life itself will deliver plenty of sorrow and tragedy and betrayal and grief; you don't have to go looking for it."




On publication of "July, July"

"I got a call one day from the fiction editor at Esquire, Rust Hills, who asked if I'd like to write a very short story, one that would fit on a single printed page. I took him up on the offer and produced a piece that now stands as one of the important reunion chapters in July, July. This short, six-hundred-word piece left me wanting to know more about the reunion itself and more about these people I'd invented."

Oct 2002

Atlantic Magazine

Tim O'Brien talks about his new novel, "July, July," and the urge to wonder how life might have turned out differently.

"I haven't rewritten entire books, but I have worked on certain things. It's just to kind of delete ugliness. If I see a phrase that strikes me as ugly, I'll delete it. Or, if I find a way to say something a bit more freshly than it was expressed originally, I'll do it. Ultimately, you want to try to leave behind the best possible paragraph or sentence."


Oct 2002


Jacki Lyden speaks with O'Brien on publication of "July, July"



Nov 2002

Robert Birnbaum

Interview on the publication of "July, July"

"We’re left with certain bundles and clusters of memory and images that have stuck and everything else is gone. So for each character I thought if I could find one of those clusters of moral choice, a period in life where something was done and there was no going back, where life would always be different afterwards."


Spring 2003

Harvard University

"The Things He Carries" by Julia Hanna

"I’ve always been interested in the social contract and questions of justice,” he says, adding that such issues seemed particularly relevant in an era of Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement."


May 2003

NPR (audio)

Interview with Neal Conan on Memorial Day



Sep 2004

Kacey Kowars Show

Excellent audio interview by Kacey Kowars



Nov 2004

NPR (audio)

How War Changes the Warrier



Nov 2009


On My Lai, O'Brien served in the area a year after the massacre

"And that mystery is -- as much as I studied my own past and what I endured there, and as much as I’ve read about what happened at My Lai and March ’68, it’s a mystery to me. Even listening to the men talking about what happened that day, their explanations ring hollow to me, they don’t satisfy something in me that would say, “oh, that’s what occurred.” And I wonder how many of those people who did that that day understand even in their own hearts why it happened or how it happened. Listening to some of the things they said in their testimony, there were many of them [who] were explicit about saying “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know what happened,” I kind of believe them."


Mar 2010

Isaiah Sheffer

A conversation on the 20th Anniversary edition and O'Brien's revisions - audio interview

Mar 2010

Sonya Larson

"It’s partly a story about what happens to men in a war, but more deeply it touches people to actually look at their own lives and childhoods. The reason that book ends not in the war, but with little Linda dying of brain cancer, is that that chapter is meant to move away from war to the lives of all of us."

Mar 2010


Tim O'Brien met with students from Cardozo High School in Washington, D.C. He was joined by Nate Fick, the author of One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer, to discuss writing and their mutual combat experiences (O'Brien served in Vietnam, Fick in Iraq and Afghanistan).

After O'Brien read a passage from The Things They Carried, the two authors answered questions from Cardozo's students—and other questions submitted online from students across the United States. Their conversation was broadcast live over the Internet, where it was viewed by more than 300 schools

Mar 22, 2010

Media Bistro (audio)

Novelist Tim O'Brien Reflects on the 20th Anniversary of The Things They Carried

"Something has gone wrong in our schools, it's sad to see. Even in our MFA programs students don't know how to make decent sentences. In a lot of cases, I'm talking about grown, 35-year-old students who speak fine English, but for some reason, can't write it. Students hate hearing that, but it's absolutely essential for success."


Mar 2010

Steven Pressfield

The Creative Process

"When I hit plateaus, I head for the mountains. By that, I mean (or think I mean) that I do all I can to point a story or a novel toward its central human drama, toward its essential human mystery. Often, I’ve found that “plateaus” are the product of ill focus-an individual tree is in sharp relief, but the forest is blurry."


Mar 2010

NPR (audio)

"The Things They Carried: 20 Years On," interview with Neil Conan

"I try to preach to students tenacity and stubbornness—to be a kind of mule walking up the mountain, to keep plodding. Inspiration is important, but you're not going to get it on a bowling alley or on a golf course or all the other things you could be doing. If you're not sitting there inspiration is simply going to pass."


Apr 2010


John McMurtrie, San Francisco Chronicle Book Editor

On what our soldiers carry today:

"They're carrying cell phones, and they're in much greater contact with the outside world than we ever were. I felt utterly isolated from anything having to do with family, civility, decency, events in America. However, the soldiers' combat experience in Vietnam seems eerily similar to what the men and women are going through now in Afghanistan and Iraq. "


Apr 2010

Big Think (video)

"I write every day.  I get up around 5:00 or so and get two little kids off to school, and then I go to work around 9:00 and work until 4:00 or so.  And then do it pretty much every day."


Apr 2010

PBS NewsHour (video)

Interview including O'Brien reading from "The Things They Carried"



Jan 29, 2010

NY Times

On Vietnam & Iraq/Afghanistan: “Obviously there are differences,” he said, “chief among them the absence of the draft. But there are enough similarities. These are wars in which there are no uniforms, no front, no rear. Who’s the enemy? What do you shoot back at? Whom do you trust? At the bottom, all wars are the same because they involve death and maiming and wounding, and grieving mothers, fathers, sons and daughters.”
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August 25, 2010