DSU hosts "The Things they Carried," author Tim O'Brien


Dickinson State University received a $15,000 grant to host Big Read on The Things They Carried. On Wednesday evening, O'Brien was on campus at 7 p.m. for an author appearance and book signing — one event in a series of events from Oct. 22 to Dec. 5 that are open to the public.

Big Read is sponsored by the National Endowment of the Arts and is a community reading program centered around the grant recipient's chosen novel.

DSU chose The Things They Carried, a novel about the Vietnam War written by Minnesota-native, Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, Tim O'Brien. NEA describes the book as "part-fiction, part-memoir" with a unique style.

In a 2008 interview with NEA, O'Brien described what his book is about.

"It's a book that centers on Vietnam and a platoon of soldiers. In one sense, it's about the Vietnam War, but it's also about storytelling, how stories rule our lives, how they're told and retold as we look for an elusive truth. And finally, it's about writing itself — writing as an effort to pin down with language the truth about a subject," he said.


He will also do two workshops, one with Dickinson High School and Trinity High School students and one with DSU students.

"We do want to get the students involved — the whole community — but definitely the students, and high school students are reading the book at (Dickinson High School); they're reading the book at (Trinity) ... Tim O'Brien is going to go to DHS to talk to the students there, and Trinity's invited over," said Michelle Stevier-Johanson, language and literature instructor.

Author and Vietnam veteran Anthony Bukoski will also come to campus Wednesday, Oct. 23 at noon.

Though Vietnam is a central topic of the book and thus Big Read, DSU has expanded the focus of its events to include themes in the book and military culture.

"For example, there’s a character in the book, Kiowa, who’s a Native American serving in the war … He’s a pretty significant character within the book. We took that idea and one of the panels that we have it about Native American military service ... We’re bringing in some singers and drummers, and they’re going to do a Native American color guard and talk about the significance of military service within Native American culture, this warrior concept," said Wynter Miller, director of international programs and multicultural affairs at DSU.

They also explored the idea of military tattoos.

"It’s been really fascinating to hear the responses that we’ve gotten back and see the tattoos. We found another girl who actually wasn’t in the military … she had a tattoo that was the plane that her grandfather had flown … Another person had a tattoo that was the same tattoo that his grandfather had had in World War II that was of his company," Miller said.

The university's Stoxen Library will host talks related to the book, as well, including one with student veterans.


"It's part of a series that we do on campus usually every two weeks anyway called Global Tables. We just pulled out these Global Tables to give them themes specifically that relate to the book. In Global Tables ... we don't tend to try to define the topics. We generally let (the speaker) do their own thing and guide it themselves," Miller said. "It's basically a celebration of cultures and try to learn more about different cultures. That could mean different countries or military culture ... we've done jazz culture ... we've done paganism."

Other events include film screenings, a book discussion, panel discussions, Veteran's Day ceremony and talks.

Kayla Henson is a former Dickinson Press reporter.
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