Award-Winning Vietnam Era Author to Appear at Festival

National Book Award Winner Leads Veterans’ Writing Track

An award-winning author who is recognized by many as the voice of the Vietnam generation has joined the lineup for the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books in Deadwood and Rapid City.

Tim O’Brien, who won the National Book Award for his fiction masterpiece, “Going After Cacciato,” and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for “The Things They Carried,” will appear at the South Dakota Humanities Council’s signature event Sept. 21-24.

“We are pleased to host an author whose visceral storytelling speaks for so many who served and are serving in the military,” said Jennifer Widman, Director of the Festival of Books. “O’Brien’s novels are considered ‘must read’ material in Veterans’ circles and we could not ask for a better author to advance our growing Veterans’ Writing program.”

Strong Veterans' Writing Tradition Continues

He will lead the Veterans Track at the Festival along with fellow Vietnam Veteran author Robert Olen Butler, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his collection of stories about the aftermath of the Vietnam War, “A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain.” 

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O’Brien and Butler (right) continue a strong tradition of Veteran writers at a Festival that has hosted Phil Klay (2014 National Book Award winner for “Redeployment,”) Ron Capps (founder and director of the national Veterans Writing Project), and Karl Marlantes (author of “Matterhorn,” a Vietnam war novel hailed as a “brilliant account of war” by the New York Times).

The South Dakota Festival of Books hosted its inaugural Veterans Writing Contest in 2016, eliciting essays from 32 authors. The winner, James Teller, was awarded a $1,000 prize.

The second annual Veterans Writing Prize will be awarded at the 2017 Festival of Books in Deadwood.

All entries for the 2017 competition will be due June 30, 2017.

Going After Cacciato

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Tim O'Brien was born in 1946 in Austin, Minn. and spent most of his youth in the small town of Worthington, Minn. 

He served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 as a foot soldier with the 46th Infantry in Quang Ngai province. For some of that time he was stationed in My Lai, just one year after the infamous My Lai Massacre. He was sent home with a Purple Heart when he was hit with shrapnel in a grenade attack. 

His first writing about his war experiences came in the form of a memoir called “If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home,” published in 1973 during his graduate studies in government at Harvard University.

Soon after, he took a position for a year as a national affairs reporter for The Washington Post, then turned full-time to writing books, eventually winning the National Book Award in 1979 for “Going After Cacciato.” The book tells the story of a private who leaves his post in Vietnam, intent on traveling 8,000 miles to Paris for peace talks. The remaining members of his squad are sent after him in a tale that mixes fantasy and the harsh reality of war. 

Emphasizing the universal truths found in that book, The New York Times said: "To call ‘Going After Cacciato’ a novel about war is like calling Moby-Dick a novel about whales."

'The Things They Carried'

O Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” a book of fictional short stories, is considered by many as a handbook for the Vietnam war experience.   

“O’Brien’s passion and memory may have been his torment all these years, but they have also been his gift...This is prose headed for the nerve center of what was Vietnam.”  - The Boston Globe

 
“The Things They Carried” examines the Vietnam War through personalized experiences shared by fictional characters.

"It's a book that centers on Vietnam and a platoon of soldiers. In one sense, it's about the Vietnam War, but it's also about storytelling, how stories rule our lives, how they're told and retold as we look for an elusive truth,” O’Brien told the National Endowment for the Arts when “The Things They Carried” was selected to be the NEA Big Read. “And finally, it's about writing itself—writing as an effort to pin down with language the truth about a subject.”

In 1987, O'Brien received the National Magazine Award for the short story, “The Things They Carried,” and in 1999 it was selected for inclusion in “The Best American Short Stories of the Century” edited by John Updike.

O'Brien is the recipient of literary awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. His short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, Harper's, The Atlantic, Playboy, and Ploughshares. He lives with his wife and children in Austin, Texas.

Those who are interested in contacting O’Brien or Butler for an interview can send inquiries to jennifer@sdhumanities.org

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