Vietnam Vet, Award-Winning Author to Speak at USC Aiken

October 19, 2017

The University of South Carolina Aiken’s annual James and Mary Oswald Distinguished Writers Series will feature author Tim O’Brien, Tuesday, October 24, 2017 at 7:30 p.m., in the Etherredge Center. This event is free and open to the public.

After studying political science at Macalester College, O’Brien served in the United States Army and fought in Vietnam. When he returned home, he studied intermittently at Harvard and worked for the Washington Post. He collected his newspaper and magazine articles about his war experiences in his first book If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (1973).

The Vietnam War is also present in O’Brien’s novels Northern Lights (1975); Going After Cacciato (1978), which won a National Book Award; The Things They Carried (1990); and In the Lake of the Woods (1994). O’Brien’s writing took a new turn with Tomcat in Love (1999), a nuanced comic novel about the search for love, and July, July (2002), whose disillusioned characters gather for a college class reunion.

O’Brien is Professor of Creative Writing in the MFA Program at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.

The biannual literary event first began in 1985, when, with the support of then-Chancellor Dr. Robert Alexander, the USC Aiken Department of English established an annual visiting writers’ series. Since its inception, the series has been dedicated to extending the learning experience beyond the classroom by providing public readings of important contemporary poetry and prose to USC Aiken faculty and students and members of the greater community.

In the first decade, the series was directed by Dr. Stephen Gardner, who worked with representatives from the South Carolina Arts Commission to have USC Aiken declared as a host site for authors that the commission brought to the state for multiple-campus residencies. The literary luminaries featured in the series during those early years included a number of Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, including novelist Michael Chabon and poet Yusef Komunyakaa.

In 1995, the series was renamed for longtime Aiken residents James and Mary Oswald, who created an endowment to enhance departmental initiatives to promote general interest in the English language and its literatures. Stewardship of the series changed hands in 1997 when Dr. Tom Mack and Dr. Phebe Davidson assumed responsibility. Since then, the roster of distinguished visiting authors has grown to include such significant writers as Judith Ortiz Cofer, Josephine Humphreys, John Jakes, Allan Gurganus, Robert Olen Butler, Sharyn McCrumb, Larry Thomas and Rick Bragg. 

Dr. Drew Geyer, chairman of the USC Aiken English Department, now leads the effort.

The fall installment of the James and Mary Oswald Distinguished Writers Series featuring Tim O’Brien, Oct. 24, at 7:30 p.m., in the USC Aiken Etherredge Center, is free and open to the public.

USC Aiken, a comprehensive university in the University of South Carolina system, offers undergraduate and master’s degrees to more than 3,500 students in 50 programs of study. USC Aiken is ranked the #1 public regional college in the South by U.S. News & World Report’s guide "America’s Best Colleges." The 2018 distinction marks USC Aiken’s 20th consecutive ranking among the top three in this category and its 13th time in first place.