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
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."