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

to23.jpgTwenty years after publishing a classic novel, one of our most critically-acclaimed writers reflected on 21st Century wars, digital developments, and writing craft. Today’s guest on the Morning Media Menu was National Book Award-winning author Tim O’Brien–talking about the 20th anniversary of his groundbreaking collection about Vietnam, The Things They Carried.

O’Brien’s book has influenced a generation of writers, changing the way we write about war. As the Iraq War continues to divide the country, his fiction has never been more timely.

Press play on the embedded player below to listen.

He shared some writing advice for aspiring authors: “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.”

O’Brien continued: “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.”


O’Brien also offered thoughts about digital writing. “One can’t help but be excited the different ways that prose can reach people now…that’s exciting, it’s a new way of getting inside people’s lives. I’m apprehensive about the swiftness of it all, the speed. I’m worried that it might affect quality.

He concluded: “Just in my case, for a thing to end up any good–that is in its lasting power or lasting in it’s dance of language–requires a thing to sit for awhile on the desk. I think there’s a tendency–at least I have it, when I write emails–to not check our own sentences. That is going to undermine prose.”

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