O’Brien is a prolific writer who came of age during the Vietnam War, and his writing has focused on that turbulent period in American history. Born in 1947 and raised in small-town Minnesota, O’Brien was inspired by personal accounts his father had published in The New York Times during World War II. When O’Brien entered Macalester College, however, he studied political science and attended peace vigils and war protests. Despite his anti-war stance, O’Brien was drafted after graduation in 1968 and sent to Vietnam, where he served a tour in the infantry because he feared the disapproval of family and friends.
When he returned to the United States in 1970, O’Brien had a Purple Heart and several publishing credits. Like his father, he wrote personal reports about the war, which were published in Minnesota newspapers. While pursuing a doctorate at Harvard University, he expanded on the vignettes to form a memoir, If I Die in Combat, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, which was published in 1973.
After a one-year stint as a national affairs reporter for The Washington Post, he turned his attention full-time to writing books. In 1975, he published his first novel, Northern Lights, about two brothers — one a war hero, the other a farm agent who stayed home in Minnesota — who struggle to survive during a cross-country ski trip. O’Brien’s next novel, Going After Cacciato, about an infantryman who deserts and decides to walk from Southeast Asia to Paris for the peace talks, was published in 1978 and won the National Book Award.
Since then, O’Brien has written The Nuclear Age (1985), The Things They Carried (1990), which was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics’ Circle Award, In the Lake of the Woods (1994) and Tomcat in Love (1998). O’Brien, currently a visiting professor and endowed chair at Southwest Texas State University where he teaches in the creative writing program, recently published a new book titled July July. The book’s subject is the wide range of landmark events that took place in 1969.
The Wittenberg University Honors Program and the English department are co-sponsors of the lecture.
Every year, the Wittenberg Series brings distinguished lecturers and performing artists of national and international prominence to the campus and local community. For more information about the Wittenberg Series, visit the university’s Web site (www.wittenberg.edu). To make special arrangements, reserve a series poster or become a friend of the Wittenberg Series, contact Series coordinator Gwendolyn Scheffel at (937) 327-7918, or via e-mail at email@example.com.
- Marj Newman
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