Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Spring 2008 Newsletter

Ransom Center Acquires Tim O'Brien Archive

Portrait of Tim O'Brien. Click to enlarge.

Snapshot of Tim O'Brien in Vietnam.
Unknown date and photographer.

The Harry Ransom Center has acquired the archive of writer Tim O'Brien, author of such memorable works as The Things They Carried (1980) and Going After Cacciato (1978), for which O'Brien received the National Book Award in 1979.

The more than 25 boxes of material document O'Brien's life and work, demonstrating the complex and multifaceted relationships that exist among experience, memory, and the creative process.

The archive traces O'Brien's life and career. It includes a story about war he wrote as a boy, his military uniforms and awards, weather-damaged letters received from his family while he was in Vietnam, a map of that country heavily annotated decades later, his research notes on his novels, and a wide range of correspondence.

"I'm delighted and much relieved to know that my modest archive will be under the care of people who appreciate commas and periods and the considered arrangement of our alphabet upon the page," said O'Brien. "The Harry Ransom Center has become something even more than an important repository of cultural materials; it is also a house in which, late at night, or on a rainy afternoon, one can hear the furious scratchings of the human soul in its struggle to revise itself. How nice to find such a home."

The bulk of the archive consists of materials related to the range of O'Brien's novels, including If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (1973), Northern Lights (1975), The Nuclear Age (1985), The Things They Carried, In the Lake of the Woods (1994), July, July (2002), and Going After Cacciato.

In addition to extensively corrected manuscripts, the archive contains corrected page proofs; business, personal, and fan correspondence; interviews; reviews; and promotion and production materials.

The collection is rich in photographs, school records, family items, and personal effects, including O'Brien's military medals.

"We are honored to have Tim O'Brien's archive at the Ransom Center," said Director Thomas F. Staley. "His work is an outstanding contribution to American literature, and indeed no one has written about the Vietnam War so wisely or so well. O'Brien's penetrating portrait of the war in Vietnam is a riveting testimony to that cataclysmic period, both on the battlefield and at home."

O'Brien's archive adds to the Ransom Center's outstanding holdings of war literature of the 20th century, which include Wilfred Owens's World War I trench poetry, Ernest Hemingway's dispatches from the Spanish Civil War, the World War II novels of Norman Mailer, James Jones, and Leon Uris, and James Salter's account of aerial combat in Korea, as well as photographer David Douglas Duncan's coverage of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

The materials will be accessible once organized and housed.  


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