Tim O'Brien was born and raised in Minnesota. In 1968, he graduated Summa Cum Laude from Macalester College, with plans to attend graduate school; however, as soon as he received his bachelor's degree, he was classified by the Selective Service as I-A, draft-eligible for combat service.
When O'Brien received his draft notice, he debated fleeing north to Canada. Like many people at the height of the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, he considered the war immoral. After agonizing internal debate, he reported for duty as required. He served in Vietnam from January 1969 to March 1970 and his experiences are the basis for his book, The Things They Carried, as well as most of his other writing.
Following his military service, O'Brien entered Harvard graduate school. While there, he wrote a memoir, If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Send Me Home, which was named Outstanding Book of 1973 by the New York Times. He also wrote his first novel, Northern Lights, in 1975. In 1977, without receiving his PhD, he left Harvard to devote himself to his writing.
O'Brien currently lives in Austin, Texas. His papers and photographs are archived in the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin.
The Big Read - Biographical information and an interview with O'Brien.