Tim O’Brien

Last night at 8 pm hundreds of students filled the seats to listen to a man read to them. The man was Tim O’Brien, literary great. He did not speak much about his personal life, but in a way, that was all he spoke of. He read the title called “How to Tell a True War Story” from his book The Things They Carried. He did not want anyone to read along with him. It was powerful. His voice spoke volumes in the silences and pauses and in the words that slowly made their way from his mouth into the microphone. His answers were mystical like his stories. They told a lot but they didn’t tell the whole story. At the end of the night he said thank you and the audience stood as he walked off the stage, clapping their hands at knowing they had just heard from a master of the art.

I had never read anything by Tim O’Brien except the title story of the book he read from last night. I found the layers intriguing. Earlier in the day I had attended a question and answer session with him where we, the aspiring young writers, turned to him and asked him questions about his methods and the craft of writing. I learned things I already knew, but I learned how he dealt with them. I learned to apply them to my writing. That night, when he read his story, I watched the layers unfold and heard the things he’d said earlier that afternoon in a new light. I gasped when I heard what happened to the baby water buffalo. I laughed at his joke but also at his frank truth. And later I raced to buy his book and waited in line to get a signature. I shook his hand. It was a firm handshake, one that warmed me up and surprised me at the same time. His earnest smile and friendly demeanor concealed the horrors he had once witnessed, but opened him up to us as that writer who writes about the truth. The night was legendary.

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