We Can Be podcast - The Heinz Endowments

Poet, soldier, author & father Tim O’Brien on the extraordinary, beautiful power of maybe S02EP16

October 16, 2019

The Things They Carried” brought National Book Award-winning author Tim O’Brien fame, and the unparalleled poetic beauty and honesty of his novels, short stories and memoirs have cemented his status as one of our most revered contemporary writers.  


Born and raised in southern Minnesota, Tim was a high school student body president who opposed the Vietnam War, and was drafted several weeks after graduation. He served in the area known as “Pinkville,” the location of two sites where American massacres of Vietnamese villagers occurred. 


“When my life collided with Vietnam, I realized not only that I wanted to write, but that I had to write,” Tim says of his tour of duty in the early ‘70s. “It was my way of relieving the pressure on my spirit and my dreams, and it became a live-saving thing.”


Tim’s proposition that we all carry things with us — whether physical or in our memories — that affect how we move through the world informs his writing, from short story compilation “If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home,” to novels “Going After Cacciato,” “Northern Lights,” and “The Things We Carried.” 


Tim talks with “We Can Be” host Grant Oliphant about the joyous memory of his father that he still carries with him; the kinship he feels with Post-9/11 veterans; his work on the Pittsburgh-based hit television show “This is Us;” and the new collection of letters and prose he wrote for his young sons, “Dad’s Maybe Book.”


“We need to be open to the ‘maybe-ness’ of our lives,” Tim says. “Open to learning, to leaning toward decency, beauty and humility.”


Listen today at heinz.org/podcast, or on leading podcast sites including Stitcher, Podbean, GooglePlay, iTunes and Spotify.


“We Can Be” is hosted by  Heinz Endowments President Grant Oliphant, and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme and incidental music by Josh Slifkin. Guest image by Josh Franzos. Guest inquiries can be made to Scott Roller at sroller@heinz.org.