2017 Big Read KC

During fall 2017, the Kansas City area's six public library systems join together for a community-wide reading and discussion of Tim O'Brien's seminal work about the Vietnam War, The Things They Carried.

The local edition of the 2017 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read offers programs exploring veterans' war experiences, music of the period, Hollywood's handling of the war, comparisons of 1960s protests with present-day movements, writing about war, civil rights, and the era's cultural and political legacy. The initiative also coincides with the premiere of the PBS documentary series The Vietnam War, directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

The Big Read KC offers special events, book conversations, film screenings and presentations, community activities, and more. You can also find more regional programming at bigreadkc.org.

About the Book

Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried is considered one of the finest books about the Vietnam War. Far from a combat story of pride and glory, it is a compassionate tale of the American soldier, brimming with raw honesty and thoughtful reflection.

The book's narrator follows a platoon of infantrymen through the jungles of Vietnam. We see them trudge through the muck of a constant downpour, get hit by sniper fire, pull body parts out of a tree, laugh while they tell their stories to one another, and fall silent when faced with making sense of it all—both in the moment and twenty years later.

The Things They Carried is not just a tale of war, and the book's themes are no less relevant today than they were decades ago. This award-winning work is a brutal, sometimes funny, often profound narrative about the human heart—how it fares under pressure and what it can endure.

About the Author

Raised in a small prairie town, Worthington, in southern Minnesota, Tim O'Brien attended Macalester College in St. Paul. He earned good grades, became student body president, and occasionally attended peace vigils and protests against the burgeoning war in Vietnam. Upon graduating in 1968 with a B.A. in political science, he thought of becoming a writer—inspired in part by his father's personal accounts of World War II battles at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, which were published in The New York Times.

Then he got his Army draft notice. O'Brien served a 13-month tour of duty in 1969-70 as a foot soldier with the 46th Infantry in Quang Ngai province, returning home with a Purple Heart after being hit by shrapnel in a grenade attack.

He first wrote about his war experience in a memoir, If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, published in 1973 while he was pursuing graduate studies in government at Harvard University. O'Brien spent a year as a national affairs reporter for The Washington Post, then turned fulltime to writing books. The Things They Carried, released in 1990, was his third about the Vietnam War and made him a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize (won in 1991 by John Updike's Rabbit At Rest).

O'Brien, 70, now lives in Austin, Texas, and teaches creative writing at Texas State University.

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