Tim O’Brien Comes to West for the Glenbard Parent Series


Ellie Ostroff

Tim O’Brien poses with Glenbard West teachers!

On Wednesday, August 22nd, Tim O’Brien – celebrated author of The Things They Carried and Pulitzer Prize finalist – came to Glenbard West for the annual Community Read portion of the District 87 Glenbard Parent Series.

The Glenbard Parent Series, founded in 1990 by Gilda Ross, has been hosting community presentations for parents for twenty-eight years. This valuable resource – available for free – reminds “parents of what they already know intuitively” to help their children grow into resilient adults, says Ms. Ross. The year-long sequence of lectures features psychologists, educators, professors, and authors, all of whom, Ms. Ross reports, are specifically selected for their ability to communicate eloquently with their audience.

For the last few years, the Glenbard Parent Series kicked off the new school year with a presentation by a famous author, preceded by a ‘community read’ of the author’s works. The first year began with speaker Ishmael Beah, author of a memoir called A Long Way Gone about Beah’s experiences as a child soldier.

The first Community Read “was extremely successful and the auditorium was packed. It was clear we were onto something,” stated Ms. Ross. As a result, the Glenbard Parent Series has continued its fantastic and popular opening to its yearlong series – beginning this year’s sequence of talks with a visit from Tim O’Brien.

Mr. O’Brien – most renowned for his work writing about the Vietnam War – electrified his audience from the very beginning of his speech, discussing the power of stories in shaping our lives. According to Mr. O’Brien, stories help us to heal – they can console us, embolden us, encourage us, and assist us in seeing the world anew. Thus, Mr. O’Brien explained his decision to become an author as a hope that what he wants to tell his audience will come through emotionally in his writing.

In an interview, Mr. O’Brien stated that he wanted readers “to feel a little of what I felt as a soldier in Vietnam.” His work, he says, is “really to help people feel what it is to be twenty one years old…and fighting halfway across the world”; to help people understand “the guilt you feel when you see dead bodies and the sense of responsibility [you feel] for it all, the comradeship with your fellow soldiers, [and] how it feels to be out on ambush at two in the morning, lying in the dark waiting to kill somebody.”

This speaks to another important aspect of Mr. O’Brien’s work: his desire to convey the pain and horror of war. During his speech at the Glenbard Parent Series, Mr. O’Brien informed his audience about the mental and emotional toll that war takes on soldiers. One anecdote he related was a real-life inspiration for a chapter in The Things They Carried, about an ambush on a Vietnamese village. Mr. O’Brien’s unit opened fire on the Vietnamese, and as they walked over to the bodies they discovered the corpse of a teenager.

Mr. O’Brien stated his reason for recounting this experience in detail as such: “I will never know if a bullet from my weapon killed that kid.” But through his books, Mr. O’Brien said, “I can take responsibility for it.”

Mr. O’Brien’s stories were written for all the soldiers on both sides of the war, he told his audience. And while most of Mr. O’Brien’s written works – such as The Things They Carried and Going After Cacciato – are fiction, he says they were invented to make an audience feel what Mr. O’Brien felt as a soldier – to convey the emotional truth of his experiences to a reader.

Fans of Mr. O’Brien’s works will have little time to wait for another one of his stories. Mr. O’Brien eagerly shared with his audience his plans for another book – this time, a book full of love letters to his two teenage children. “The book is about telling the kids who their father was, and what he cared about, and how he tried to care about them, what he worried about,” said Mr. O’Brien in an interview. One of the possible titles is Dad’s Maybe Book, so keep an eye on bookshelves for Mr. O’Brien’s new work, and thank you to Mr. O’Brien for coming to Glenbard West!