The Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award being given to Tim O’Brien by the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Foundation can in some ways be traced to a resolution of the United States Congress.

In 1964 Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and ignited the Vietnam War, a war which quickly divided the country and sadly took the lives of more than 58,000 Americans. In 1968 Tim O'Brien’s promising graduate education at Harvard was interrupted by a draft notice just two weeks after his graduation from Macalester College. Clearly one of America’s best and brightest, O’Brien was soon in Vietnam, serving as a grunt soldier assigned to the Americal Division where his platoon conducted search and destroy missions in some of the same “Pinkville” villages in the Quang Ngai Province that less than a year before had been subjected to the search and destroy missions by Lt. William Calley that had resulted in the My Lai Massacre.

O’Brien’s experiences in Vietnam became the war stories of a series of novels and a memoir, but his works go far beyond combat life. He has used his war stories to join the past to the future as he weaves them into the fabric of his characters and tells the reader how war experiences affect the ability to love and find peace in a post-war environment. As he said in The Things They Carried, “a true war story is never about war. It’s about sunlight ... It’s about love and memory. It’s about sorrow.”

He first captured his Vietnam experiences in his memoir If I die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, a title taken from a military marching cadence. A subsequent novel, Going After Cacciato, has been described as “the finest piece of American fiction to emerge from the Vietnam War,” a recognition repeated again and again by the critics. Recounting the search and destroy missions of soldiers in Vietnam, Tim O’Brien captures the horrors and hallucinations of war as he searches for peace and tries to comprehend how war affects the land and people caught up in it. As Paul Berlin the protagonist scans the deceptive plains of Quang Ngai Province, he wistfully wonders “Where have the birds gone?”

O’Brien also explores the lingering passions and pain that lie half-buried in the aftermath of war. He engages the reader in the plot of In the Lake of the Wood, a novel that uses the actual transcript of the Lt. Calley court-martial. The protagonist John Wade suffers a humiliating political defeat triggered by the last minute publication of his participation in the My Lai Massacre. Wade and his wife retreat to a remote cabin where he struggles through a labyrinth of unearthed feelings. The confusion and ambiguities of Wade’s struggles become part of the readers’ experience as Wade’s wife, and then Wade, disappear, and the readers are left to make their own conclusions.

In addition to the insightful writings drawn from his Vietnam experiences, O’Brien has successfully ventured into humor. Tomcat in Love, a collection of stories, provides a wonderful character description that might apply to O’Brien himself:

In one way or another, it seems to me, virtually every human utterance represents a performance of sorts, and I, too, have been known to lay on the flourishes. I enjoy the decorative adjective, the animating adverb. I use words, as a fireman uses water.

O’Brien’s work demonstrates enormous talent in the use of the subtleties and texture of the English language. Now we honor his use of his own talents and experiences to deepen our understanding of the realities of war and their effect on the individual struggle for peace.

Through it all, he lived the war. He dreamed the peace. The things he carried through life, he carried in his heart through his writings. He was the voice of his Vietnam, the voice of his generation, and the voice of his country. His writings will be forever enshrined as the defining literature of the Vietnam War.

In the Lake of the Woods was described by Time magazine as the best novel of 1994. The book also received the James Fenimore Cooper Prize from the American Society of Historians. The Things They Carried received France’s Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger award. It was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His book, Going After Cacciato, won the National Book Award in fiction in 1979. O'Brien is the recipient of literary awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

With the Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Foundation honors a body of work that reflects literary excellence and advances our understanding of peace. As O’Brien himself has written in The Things They Carried: “In the midst of evil you want to be a good man. You want decency. You want justice and courtesy and human concord.”

Tim O’Brien’s body of work in the literature of war will forever stand out as a major contribution to the effort to promote peace, harmony, and human understanding through the use of the written word.

- Merle F. Wilberding
Dayton Literary Peace Prize Board Member
Captain, JAGC, U.S. Army (1969 – 1973)
Attorney at Law – Writer
Coolidge Wall Co. LPA, Dayton, Ohio


2012 Richard C. Holbrooke
Distinguished Achievement Award

Tim O'Brien, 2012 Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award Winner (photo by Darren Carroll)
Click to see video

(Click photo to see acceptance speech at awards dinner.)

Tim O'Brien

"It is a great, great honor to have been chosen as a recipient of the Richard C. Holbrooke Award. Over what has been a long career, this award means more to me than any other -- by far."

                                    - Tim O'Brien

Tim O’Brien received the National Book Award in Fiction in 1979 for his novel Going After Cacciato.

In 2005 The Things They Carried was named by the New York Times as one of the twenty best books of the last quarter century. It received the Chicago Tribune Heartland Award in fiction and was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. The French edition of The Things They Carried received one of France’s highest literary awards, the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger. The title story from The Things They Carried received the National Magazine Award and was selected by John Updike for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories of the Century.

Book cover of The Things They Carried Book cover of July, July Book cover of In the Lake of the Woods

In the Lake of the Woods, published in 1994, was chosen by Time magazine as the best novel of that year. The book also received the James Fenimore Cooper Prize from the Society of American Historians and was selected as one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times.

In 2010, O’Brien received the Katherine Anne Porter Award, presented by the American Academy of Arts and Letters for a distinguished lifetime body of work. O’Brien’s other books include If I Die in a Combat Zone, Northern Lights, Tomcat in Love and July, July. His short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic, Esquire, Playboy, Harper’s, and numerous editions of The O. Henry Prize Stories and The Best American Short Stories. His novels have sold more than three million copies and have been translated into more than 20 languages.

==> Read the full press release

 
Excerpt from The Things They Carried

In the midst of evil you want to be a good man. You want decency. You want justice and courtesy and human concord, things you never knew you wanted . . . At the hour of dusk you sit at your foxhole and look out on a wide river turning pinkish red, and at the mountains beyond, and although in the morning you must cross the river and go into the mountains and do terrible things and maybe die, even so, you find yourself studying the fine colors on the river, you feel wonder and awe at the setting of the sun, and you are filled with a hard, aching love for how the world could be and always should be, but now is not.

 
Tim O'Brien's on being a "Peace Writer"

Click on the image below to view a 3:40 minute video of Tim O'Brien's comments at the authors' reception in Dayton on November 10, 2012.

Tim O'Brien, 2012 Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award Winner


 
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