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Released October 8, 2004

SOUTHERN MISS FORUM SPEAKER OFFERS INSIGHTS
ON WRITING, VIETNAM WAR EXPERIENCES
By David Tisdale

 

HATTIESBURG - A good story connects not only with the reader's mind, but also with every part of his being. That's what acclaimed Vietnam novelist Tim O'Brien strives to do when he writes, he said Monday night at The University of Southern Mississippi's fall 2004 University Forum.

"I hope that I would make your stomach believe me," said O'Brien, author of "The Things They Carried," among other renowned works featuring his in-country experiences while serving with the U.S. military during the war, as well as his postwar reflections.

After graduating from Macalester College in Minnesota in 1968, O'Brien was drafted in the Army and served a 13-month tour as a basic 'grunt' in Vietnam from February 1969 to March 1970 (Alpha Company, 5th Battalion, 46th Infantry of the 198th Infantry Brigade). O'Brien's fiction is noted for its themes of guilt, complicity and courage.

With the passage of time, O'Brien said he gains new insight on his Vietnam experience, which he translates into his writing. "You have a new angle on remembrance, and you get a different story you want to tell. As you mature, you think different things about it (the war). It's with me forever, and I'll always write about it, just in different ways."

His major works, in addition to "The Things They Carried" (1990), include "If I Die in a Combat Zone" (1973); "Going After Cacciato" (1978), which won him the 1979 National Book Award in fiction; "In the Lake of the Woods" (1994), selected by "Time" magazine as the best novel of 1992; and most recently "July, July" (2002).

Giving advice to current and aspiring writers among his audience, O'Brien said good stories also include familiar details of the human experience, with each of us carrying the material collected from our life experiences necessary to be writers.

While sharing his thoughts on his Vietnam experience and the current world situation, O'Brien warned against "fanatical declarations" by "absolutists" of any type, especially those who claim to know the truth. Truth can have different meanings, he said. "The world was once flat, or so we thought," he said. "Contradictory truths can live side by side, and that's the world we live in, whether we like it or not."

Southern Miss student Hillary Walters of Ellisville said she could feel O'Brien's passion for his work. "He made me want to go out and be a writer, today," Walters said after O'Brien's presentation. "You can tell he enjoys what he does, and that's really inspirational."

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November 23, 2004 9:23 AM