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Conversations with Tim O'Brien

Patrick A. Smith

Publication Year: 2012

On the strength of a National Book Award for his novel Going After Cacciato (1978) and a widely acclaimed short-story cycle, The Things They Carried (1990), Tim O'Brien (b. 1946) cemented his reputation as one of the most compelling chroniclers of Vietnam--and, in the process, was cast as a "Vietnam writer." But to confine O'Brien to a single piece of ground or a particular style is to ignore the broad sweep of a career spanning nearly four decades.

In addition to detailed discussions of all of O'Brien's work--a memoir, If I Die in a Combat Zone (1973), and seven books of fiction--the sixteen interviews and profiles in Conversations with Tim O'Brien explore common themes, with subtle differences. Looming large is the experience of Vietnam and its influence as well as O'Brien's youth in Minnesota and the expectations of a Midwestern upbringing. Interviews allowed the writer to fully examine the shifting boundaries of truth and identity, memory, and imagination in fiction, the role of war in society; gender issues; and the craft of writing. O'Brien approaches each of these topics and a host of others with a directness and an evident passion that will resonate with both readers and prospective writers.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Series: Literary Conversations Series

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-xix

“I came to writing because of the war. When I returned from Vietnam, I had something to say: I had witnessed things, smelled things, imagined things which struck me as startling and terrifying and intriguing in all sorts of ways,” Tim O’Brien tells Larry McCaffery. “Although Vietnam was the impetus...


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pp. xxi-xxiii

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Interview with Tim O’Brien

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pp. 3-21

Everyone over twenty-five remembers the spring and summer of 1968, a period so jammed with tumult, confusion, high emotions, violence, and death that today it’s hard to believe so much could have happened in only a few short months. But as with John Kennedy’s assassination, everyone today can...

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Tim O’Brien: “Maybe So”

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pp. 22-40

What’s odd about it, though, is that a book which I published and intended to be a straight autobiography or war memoir is now called a novel by everyone, and everyone writes about it as a novel. That goes to your point, which is that for some reason (I’m not even sure what it was; it must have...

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An Interview with Tim O’Brien

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pp. 41-51

Tim O’Brien is widely considered the best of a talented group of Vietnam veterans who have devoted much of their writing to their war experiences. Sections of his most recent book, The Things They Carried (Houghton Mifflin/ Seymour Lawrence, 1990), have won a National Magazine Award and...

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Staying True to Vietnam: Writer Tim O’Brien Aims for the War’s Nerve Center

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pp. 52-57

Lawrence didn’t get his way—no hookers, and the Platonic dialogues stayed—but it was nonetheless the beginning of a long relationship between author and publisher. O’Brien went on to take the National Book Award in 1979 for Going After Cacciato, a magical novel heralded for capturing the...

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An Interview with Tim O’Brien

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pp. 58-67

Steven Kaplan received his Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Tuebingen, Germany, and is now an associate professor at the University of Southern Colorado. He is working on a full-length study of Tim O’Brien’s fiction. This interview was conducted in January of 1991 at the...

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Artful Dodge Interviews Tim O’Brien

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pp. 68-87

Since the appearance of his war memoir If I Die in a Combat Zone in 1973, Tim O’Brien has been widely regarded as not only a major new voice in American writing, but also as an important witness to the day-to-day realities of the Vietnam conflict and to war in general. His novel Going After Cacciato, set in...

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Responsibly Inventing History: An Interview with Tim O’Brien

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pp. 88-99

This interview took place at the Kellogg Center on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, on April 7, 1994. It was the third day of O’Brien’s visit as a guest speaker and the day before he had read from The Things They Carried and discussed his Vietnam experiences, as well as his experiences...

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Tim O’Brien Interview

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pp. 100-114

This published interview with author Tim O’Brien is based on approximately seven hours of conversation I had with the author on July 9 and 10, 1995, in his apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My purpose for the interview was to gather biographical and literary information for my book on O’Brien...

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About Tim O’Brien: A Profile

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pp. 115-119

In 1994, after his sixth book, In the Lake of the Woods, was released, he distressed his many fans by vowing to stop writing fiction “for the foreseeable future.” Then, a few months later, he published a now famous essay in the New York Times Magazine that described his return to Vietnam. With his girlfriend...

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The Heart under Stress: Interview with Author Tim O’Brien

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pp. 120-124

After a notorious 1994 New York Times Magazine essay that was tantamount to a suicide note and a breakdown during a reading in Ann Arbor, Michigan, writer Tim O’Brien began, slowly, to confront his demons. If he made good on his promise of retirement, his stature would be assured; he has received the National...

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Journeying from Life to Literature: An Interview with American Novelist Tim O’Brien

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pp. 125-142

LW: I know that some of your characters are based on real people—the character Curt Lemon, for example, in The Things They Carried, who is blown into a tree by a mine, was based on a comrade, Alvin Merricks. Could you talk a little about how you metamorphose your personal experience into...

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Tim O’Brien: An Interview

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pp. 143-159

Tim O’Brien is widely considered one of the best writers of his generation. He served as a foot soldier in Vietnam from 1969–1970, after which he pursued graduate studies in government at Harvard University. O’Brien later worked as a national affairs reporter for the Washington Post before publishing his...

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Tim O’Brien: Author of July, July Talks with Robert Birnbaum

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pp. 160-172

Tim O’Brien was born in Minnesota and graduated from Macalester College in that state. He served in Vietnam and did graduate work in government at Harvard University. He was briefly a reporter for the Washington Post. Tim O’Brien has published the 1979 National Book Award–winning novel...

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“Every question leads to the next”: An Interview with Tim O’Brien

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pp. 173-179

Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried, Going After Cacciato, and In the Lake of the Woods, among other critically lauded works of fiction and memoir, visited the University of North Carolina as the Morgan Family Writer-in-Residence during the Spring 2007 semester. O’Brien spent part of an afternoon...

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An Interview with Tim O’Brien

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pp. 180-183

I read Tim O’Brien’s book The Things They Carried right after it was published, and it blew me away. It is powerful—capturing the emotions, internal conflicts, and bravery of not just the Vietnam generation, but today’s soldiers and Marines, too. I’ve recommended it to many people since its release, and...

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On War, Heroes, and the Power of Literature: A Conversation with Tim O’Brien

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pp. 184-196

This interview is meant to be a capstone piece for Conversations, exploring such topics as fatherhood, heroes, portrayals of Vietnam in film, and late-season collapses in baseball, and updating the author’s thoughts on writing, his native Midwest, and the futility of war...

Key Resources

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pp. 197-201


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pp. 203-210

E-ISBN-13: 9781621039167
E-ISBN-10: 1617036781
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617036781

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Literary Conversations Series