I'll always treasure the memory of playing golf with Tim O'Brien at Sewanee.
My brief friendship with O'Brien at the Sewanee Writers Conference glows through the years. The writer of the Vietnam War classics "If I Die in a Combat Zone," "Going After Cacciato" and "The Things They Carried" was generous, life-affirming, overflowing with laughter and joy. He showed no bitterness over fighting in Vietnam as the country turned against the war.
Discovering that I was a newspaper man, O'Brien delighted me with stories about working for Ben Bradlee at the Washington Post before achieving success with his books. In contrast to the conference's monastery-like isolation, he displayed a keen interest in current events.
O'Brien's craft lectures electrified the writers who'd retreated for two weeks from the adult world to study poetry, fiction and drama at the University of the South campus in East Tennessee. Wearing his ever-present baseball cap, jeans and T-shirt, the best-selling author proclaimed his commitment to writing, the sanctity of the imagination and the discipline of working each day.
Recalling our days at Sewanee, I was always excited when O'Brien published another book or short story. But then, like J.D. Salinger, he stopped writing. He taught at North Texas State and became the father of two sons.
I'm delighted to discover that a new O'Brien book has arrived. Ending a 17-year silence, O'Brien recently published a nonfiction collection of essays, memoirs and letters to his sons called "Dad's (Maybe) Book." In an essay from the book republished on the Literary Hub web site, O'Brien poignantly tells about the love he feels for the men who served with him in Vietnam.
At 73, O'Brien says this will be his last book, and it sounds like the summation of his career. Along with his Vietnam books, O'Brien has written outstanding novels about American life. His work has influenced new generations of writers, especially those chronicling the Iraq War. As Matt Gallagher said in a Time magazine article on "Dad's (Maybe) Book," O'Brien is my generation's Hemingway.