Author Tim O’Brien: Seek Honesty
Writer Tim O’Brien visited the UWG campus recently to speak about the power of stories and the role of writers.
O’Brien is the author of eight books of stories, fiction and nonfiction, most notably “The Things They Carried,” stories about the men of Alpha Company during the Vietnam War.
“This matters, matters a lot,” said Dr. Emily Hipchen, associate professor of English and the coordinator of the Creative Writing Program.
Hipchen noted that “The Things They Carried,” was number 65 on the list of the American Library Association’s Top 100 Banned and Challenged Books for 2000-2009.
The book is “a collection of stories that some people want kept from you because these stories represent life as it is,” Hipchen said. “Because it is a collection of stories that makes war so true that people object to it.”
When he took the podium at the Coliseum on Sept. 21, O’Brien told the audience of more than 1,100 that writers have a commitment to truth.
“The thing about being a writer is that you are bound to a contract with yourself, which is to try to be honest about whatever it is you’ve gone through - whether it’s a war, a divorce, whatever it is. To seek honesty,” he said. “Good stories are not meant to give counsel, advice or tell you how to live your life or if they do, only in the most modest kind of way.”
O’Brien continued, telling a story of his mischievous five-year-old son. When caught doing something he should not have been doing, the boy told his father that he had “two heads.” He explained to his father that one head told him “daddy is not going to like this.” The other told him “this is going to be fun.”
His son, O’Brien said, understood human nature better than most adults.
Two heads are the sign of a perfect mind, O’Brien said.
Two heads – sometimes three – are signs “of a mind that’s attuned to the world’s pesky little ambiguities, mysteries, complexities, things that cannot be known. Two or three heads are signs of a person sophisticated enough to understand that knowledge can be and almost always is imperfect,” he said.
The world was full of people with one head – absolutists, terrorists like Sept. 11 hijacker, Mohammad Atta – he said.
“Let’s not, you and me, let’s not commit the same one-headed sin of vanity, complacency, self-righteousness, self-congratulations and zealotry, fanaticism, demagoguery, that ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ absolutism,” he said.
O’Brien also spoke on Sept. 22 during two packed sessions in Kathy Cashen Hall.
For more on O’Brien go to: http://www.illyria.com/tob/tobbio.html.
The visit was sponsored by UWG’s Creative Writing Program, the Eclectic, the First Year Writing Program, Ingram Library’s Penelope Melson Society, the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, the College of Arts and Humanities, the Excel Center, the Coliseum, the Office of Institutional Diversity, the Advanced Academy and the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi.
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