Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Tim O’Brien was born as William Timothy O’Brien, Jr., in Austin, Minnesota on October 1, 1946, to William Timothy O’Brien, an insurance agent, and Ave E. Schultz O’Brien, a second-grade teacher. His parents met each other while serving in the Navy during World War II. O’Brien’s sister Kathleen was born one year later, and his brother Greg ten years after O’Brien’s birth. The family moved to the small town of Worthington, Minnesota, while O’Brien was in elementary school, and they remained there throughout his childhood and adolescence. Growing up in such a small town impacted O’Brien greatly and influenced his decision about going into the military.
The O’Brien family was deeply involved in reading and language. As a member of the Worthington library board, Mr. O’Brien brought home many books for the children to read. Indeed, each member of the O’Brien household seems to have been a dedicated reader.
O’Brien’s relationship with his father was a sometimes troubled one. Although O’Brien admired his father’s knowledge and intellect, the senior O’Brien’s alcoholism damaged what might have otherwise been a close relationship. When he was drinking, William O’Brien was cruel to the youngster. Further, his father was frequently institutionalized for alcoholism, and young O’Brien felt his absence keenly. It was...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
William Timothy O’Brien was born in Minnesota in 1946 and lived there until he graduated summa cum laude from Macalester College in 1968. He was immediately drafted and, despite deep ambivalence, was inducted into the U.S. Army. The former student body president of a radical college, O’Brien served in Vietnam, first as a foot soldier and then as a typist. He was honorably discharged from the Army in 1970 with seven medals, among them the Purple Heart. He disapproved of the Vietnam War before he was drafted, while he was fighting it, and after he returned home.
Although O’Brien had done some scattered writing before the war (while he was still in college, he produced a novel that he did not publish), his real career as a writer began with Vietnam. During the summer after he was drafted, while he grappled with his conscience about serving in the war, he began to write intensely. “That horrible summer made me a writer,” he recalls. O’Brien sent home accounts of the fighting in Vietnam that were first published in Minnesota newspapers and later recycled into his books.
After the war, O’Brien studied government at Harvard University and worked for The Washington Post. The first book he published, the 1973 war memoir If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, was well received, opening the door for him to set aside both journalistic and political aspirations to build a full-time literary career.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
William Timothy O’Brien, Jr., was born in Austin, Minnesota, in 1946, placing him among the baby-boom generation, the young men of which would become eligible for the military draft during the Vietnam War (1964-1973). His father was an insurance salesman and a World War II combat veteran; his mother, Ava Schultz O’Brien, was an elementary school teacher. When O’Brien was nine years old, the family, which included a younger sister and brother, moved to Worthington, near the Minnesota-Iowa border, and he grew up there. His childhood, by his own account, was lonely. He played baseball and golf but occupied himself mainly with magic and reading.
After high school, O’Brien attended Macalester College and majored in political science. He participated in protests against the Vietnam War, wrote antiwar editorials for the college newspaper, and canvassed in support of Senator Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign in 1968. He was elected student-body president his senior year. Immediately after graduating with a bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Despite his hatred for the war, he quelled the urge to flee to Canada and was trained as an infantryman.
In February, 1969, O’Brien arrived at an advance firebase in Quang Ngai Province, Republic of Vietnam. Nearby was My Lai, a hamlet where troops from O’Brien’s division had murdered as many as five hundred civilians in one day. O’Brien, like most...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
William Timothy O’Brien is recognized as one of the strongest voices to emerge from the Vietnam War, the defining event of his life. He was born to an insurance salesman and a teacher, and when he was nine the family moved from Austin, Minnesota, to the small town of Worthington, “Turkey Capital of the World.” O’Brien studied political science at Macalester College in St. Paul, planning a career in the State Department. In his senior year, he was elected student-body president, and in 1968 he graduated summa cum laude with a full scholarship to Harvard. The Vietnam draft interrupted his plans.
O’Brien thought seriously of going to Canada to escape a war he did not believe in, but he could not face the disapproval of family and friends. Later he labeled himself a coward for not having acted on his beliefs. He served in the United States Army from 1968 to 1970, including one year as an infantryman in Vietnam. His memoir, If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, chronicles this period of his life and his ambivalence about it.
In 1970, O’Brien began doctoral studies at the Harvard School of Government and held two summer internships at The Washington Post. He married in 1973 and took a year’s leave of absence to report on national affairs for The Washington Post, a job that, as he said, taught him “the virtue of tenacity.” He dropped out of Harvard in 1976 after publishing his second book,...
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O'Brien's life resembles many of his protagonists. Born October 2, 1946, and raised in the small town of Wortington, Minnesota, by his insurance salesman father and elementary school teacher mother, O'Brien's childhood and adolescence was marked by loneliness and isolation. When he was a student at Macalester College in St. Paul, however, he found a place in the antiwar movement and attended war protests and peace vigils. After graduating with a degree in political science and plans to reform government from the inside, O'Brien was drafted instead. Resisting the impulse to defect to Canada, the twenty-two-year-old O'Brien found himself in the infantry. Despite being awarded the Purple Heart for wounds he received, O'Brien loathed the war and everything about it, but it would become the catalyst and continuing inspiration for his literary career.
O'Brien wrote his first book, the autobiographical series of vignettes If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home while a graduate student in government at Harvard University. Since its publication in 1973, O'Brien has been a full-time writer and Vietnam a constant theme. In addition to The Things They Carried, the collection of interrelated stories that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1990, O'Brien has published five novels. The most recent, Tomcat in Love was published in 1998 after a well-documented period of personal turmoil and artistic burnout. He lives in Cambridge,...
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William Tim O’Brien was born on October 1, 1946, in Austin, Minnesota. His father sold insurance and his mother was a teacher. Both of O’Brien’s parents served in the military during World War II. O’Brien and his family lived in Austin, Minnesota, for ten years, then moved to Worthington, Minnesota, where O’Brien spent the rest of his childhood and adolescence. He enrolled in 1964 at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.
In 1968, just two weeks after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Macalester and while preparing to enter Harvard graduate school, O’Brien received his draft notice. Although he was opposed to the war, he found himself in August 1968 assigned to an infantry unit in the army on his way to Vietnam.
O’Brien’s Vietnam experience was life changing. Upon his return to the United States, he enrolled at Harvard as a doctoral student in government. During this time, he wrote for a number of magazines and newspapers and completed his first book, a memoir of his time in Vietnam called If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, published in 1973. In 1975 he published his second book, the novel Northern Lights. Around 1976 he gave up graduate studies to pursue a full-time career as a writer. The same year, he won an O. Henry Memorial Award for a short story that would later be included in his 1978 novel, Going After Cacciato. He garnered yet another O. Henry Memorial Award in 1978 for a...
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