Tim O'Brien was born on 1 October 1946 in Austin, Minnesota, and was raised in Worthington, Minnesota, along with a younger sister and brother. He attended Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and earned a BA in Political Science. He was elected Student Body President in 1968, and in the same year he was drafted into the United States army and was sent to the Vietnam War. He became an infantry sergeant in the 46th infantry, 3rd platoon from 1969 to 1970. His unit had been involved in the infamous My Lai Massacre in the previous year.
On completing his tour, O’Brien returned to graduate school at Harvard University, and then took an internship at the Washington Post. His writing career began in 1973, with the release of If I Die in a Combat Zone and Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, both accounts of his war experiences.
In 1979 he won the US National Book Award for fiction for his Vietnam novel Going After Cacciato (1978), and in 1995 he won the James Fennimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction for his book, In the Lake of the Woods. His other works include The Things They Carried.
Tim O'Brien lives in Texas and teaches writing at Southwest Texas State University.
"I didn't get into writing to make money or get famous or any of that. I got into it to hit hearts, and man, when I get letters not just from the soldiers but from their kids, especially their kids, it makes it all worthwhile."