By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma! book discussion program begins its winter 2018 Pulitzer Centennial series on Tuesday, January 23 with “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. The event will take place at 7 p.m. in Oklahoma City University’s Walker Center room 151.
First published in 1990, “The Things They Carried” has become one of the most celebrated works of literature about the Vietnam experience. A series of connected short stories with characters based on O’Brien’s own platoon from Vietnam, the stories are rich with symbolism and explorations of the psyches of American combat soldiers before, during and after the war. These stories leave readers reflecting on the deep questions they pose, such as how courage is defined, why war makes some people feel more alive, and what is the truth buried within fictional war stories.
Britton Gildersleeve, who developed the series for Oklahoma Humanities, says the theme title “War, Not War, and Peace” is intended to invoke the idea of a fragmented peace/non-war axis.
“Too often, ‘peace’ is simply the absence of active war,” said Gildersleeve. “Ours is a country – and culture – forged in a crucible of war and conquest. What defines much of our national character is aggression, both its light and dark sides. The books chosen for this series reflect a deep commitment to presenting Pulitzer winners detailing both the active elements of war as well as the long-lived legacies of war, in those periods optimistically called ‘peace.’”
The peace/non-war theme is revealed in all five texts of the Pulitzer series, which include the Indian Wars (Empire), WWII (Maus and All the Light) and the Việtnam war (Things and Neon Vernacular), and culminating in contemporary time.
“Given the parameters of the Pulitzer grant, perspectives are as broad as possible: characters are black, white, mixed race, Indian. Male and female, blind and sighted. German, Jewish, French, American, Comanche,” Gildersleeve said. “Even genres have been examined to undercut the idea of the Pulitzers as awards for only certain kinds of texts: fiction, non-fiction, history, biography, poetry. The result is a prism through which war and peace are refracted in multiple colors, a vivid palette of war, not-war, and peace.
“One of our major challenges when reading the literature of war—whether non-fiction, fiction, or poetry—is that literature by its very nature beautifies what is essentially a brutal and tragic endeavor,” Gildersleeve added. “However horrific the scenes from the Indian Wars, WWII, or Việtnam, Pulitzer-quality writing redeems those horrors and makes of them something else. It’s both the gift and the curse of literature. And yet, how else can we learn of what others suffered under the bloodtide of combat, and from its after-effects?”
At each session in the five-part series, a Humanities scholar will make a 35-45 minute presentation on the book in the context of the theme.
Small group discussions will follow with experienced discussion leaders. At the end, all participants come together for a brief wrap-up.
Copies of books are available to borrow free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis in Dulaney-Browne Library room 211 or 207 before Dec. 22 or after Jan. 2. Those who are interested in participating are encouraged to contact the campus series director Tracy Floreani at 405-208-5707 or [email protected]
The Oklahoma Humanities Council sponsors Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma (LTAIO throughout the state, bringing readers together to discuss books on a theme, with the assistance of humanities scholars as facilitators.
Other dates and books in the current discussion series season are:
Feb. 6 – “Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History” by S. C. Gwynne
Feb. 20 – “MAUS” by Art Spiegelman
March 6 – “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr
March 20 – “Neon Vernacular” (poems) by Yusef Komunyakaa
All sessions take place on Tuesday evenings in Walker Center, Room 151, beginning at 7 p.m. For more information, visit the series website at okcufilmlit.org.