Novelist Tim O’Brien has won the 2013 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing, the first time a fiction writer has won the $100,000 prize.
In this encore edition of the Morning Media Menu, we interviewed O’Brien about the 20th anniversary of his groundbreaking collection about Vietnam, The Things They Carried.
Press play to listen on SoundCloud, and we’ve included some excerpts from the interview below as well…
In our interview, O’Brien shared some writing advice for aspiring authors: “I try to preach to students tenacity and stubbornness–to be a kind of mule walking up the mountain, to keep plodding. Inspiration is important, but you’re not going to get it on a bowling alley or on a golf course or all the other things you could be doing. If you’re not sitting there inspiration is simply going to pass.”
O’Brien continued: “Something has gone wrong in our schools, it’s sad to see. Even in our MFA programs students don’t know how to make decent sentences. In a lot of cases, I’m talking about grown, 35-year-old students who speak fine English, but for some reason, can’t write it. Students hate hearing that, but it’s absolutely essential for success.”
O’Brien also offered thoughts about digital writing. “One can’t help but be excited the different ways that prose can reach people now…that’s exciting, it’s a new way of getting inside people’s lives. I’m apprehensive about the swiftness of it all, the speed. I’m worried that it might affect quality.”
He concluded: “Just in my case, for a thing to end up any good–that is in its lasting power or lasting in it’s dance of language–requires a thing to sit for awhile on the desk. I think there’s a tendency–at least I have it, when I write emails–to not check our own sentences. That is going to undermine prose.”
Here’s more about O’Brien’s work:
A combat veteran of the Vietnam War, O’Brien is the winner of the National Book Award, the Chicago Tribune Heartland Award, the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger, the National Magazine Award and the Katherine Anne Porter Award. His works include If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, The Things They Carried, and Going After Cacciato.