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 difficult for him to talk about his home situation with other youngsters, and it left him often feeling awkward and self-conscious. As a result of this, O’Brien began a childhood fascination with magic. He performed in many venues around Worthington. Although his interest faded with time, his early connection to magic surfaces in his novel In the Lake of the Woods (1994).
O’Brien graduated from Worthington in 1964 and began studying at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. During his senior year, he served as student body president. Although Macalester was quiet compared to other colleges and universities where war protests were becoming increasingly violent, O’Brien opposed the war and worked for the nomination of Eugene McCarthy for president.
In 1968, O’Brien graduated from Macalester Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude. Within two weeks of graduation, he received his draft notice. O’Brien details this experience in his memoir...
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