A nation at war abroad for years. Social upheaval stateside. Citizens marching for civil rights. Political crises. Forms of cultural expression such as music, art, and film grappling to capture the mood of a country and its people.
A contemporary snapshot of present-day America? Yes... although what we are seeing in today's headlines has ties to our past.
Fifty years ago, amid rising anger and unrest, America was grinding through its long, painful and ultimately unwinnable war in Vietnam. In a remarkable collaboration, all six of the Kansas City area's public libraries are joining together to revisit that turbulent period in history through a community-wide reading and discussion of The Things They Carried, Tim O' Brien's groundbreaking novel about a fictional platoon of U.S. soldiers before, during, and after the Vietnam War.
This local edition of the 2017 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read—the biggest Big Read Kansas City has ever seen—offers a broad and illuminating examination of this era through book discussions, history presentations, the music of the period, Hollywood's handling of the war, comparisons of 1960s protests with present-day movements, and writing about war.
Through collaborative programming and community conversations, this year's Big Read KC aims to explore the Vietnam War's legacy, and why its lessons matter for today's America. Included below are some highlights of the Kansas City Public Library's Big Read KC events and activities; learn more at kclibrary.org/bigread2017, and check out all the regional libraries' Big Read offerings at bigreadkc.org.
Big Read KC at the Kansas City Public Library:
Regional Big Read KC:
About the book
The Things They Carried is a modern classic, a meditation on the Vietnam War by a former Army foot soldier who was drafted out of college in 1968, began a 13-month tour in Vietnam the following year, and returned home with a Purple Heart for a shrapnel injury suffered in a grenade attack. It sold more than 2 million copies and made Tim O'Brien a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1991.
Twenty-two interlocking stories illuminate both the physical horror and emotional toll of the war on a small band of soldiers, one of whom is named Tim O'Brien. Although presented as a novel-in-stories, readers will sense a subtle blurring of truth and fiction. O'Brien wants the reader to carry a feeling of uncertainty through the book; a feeling experienced constantly by his comrades. The author will discuss his book and his war experience when he visits the Library's Plaza Branch on October 12.
Copies of The Things They Carried are available in print, eBook, and audiobook formats in the Library's catalog, as well as the collections of all the participating libraries. A limited supply of complimentary copies may also be available.
Community conversations about The Things They Carried and other related books will take place during at various library locations or other community sites. Special editions of the FYI Book Group, a partnership project between the Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Public Library, will also discuss the book. To find a discussion group near you, check out the list.
The Vietnam War documentary
The Big Read KC coincides with the September premiere of Ken Burns' latest documentary series, The Vietnam War, on KCPT-Kansas City PBS. Burns and co-director Lynn Novick visit KC on Sept. 8 in a KCPT-sponsored appearance at the Midland Theatre, and the 10-part, 18-hour series begins airing on PBS on Sept. 17.
Big Read KC offers a wide array of programs that explore the legacy of the Vietnam War. Check out the Library's list of events, and find additional events throughout the region at bigreadkc.org.
Big Read Author Event:
Tim O'Brien: The Things They Carried
Thursday, October 12, 2017 | 6:30 p.m.
Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64112
The Vietnam War still has the power to divide Americans between those for and against it -- and just as surely, between those who remember the era firsthand and those not yet born when the troops returned home. There may be no better bridge across those twin divisions than Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. He discusses the seminal account of a fictional platoon on a battlefield without a front, dodging sniper fire and the soldiers' own misgivings. Four decades after the war's end, it continues to win legions of dedicated readers both in uniform and out.
Vietnam Voices Storybooth
The Vietnam Voices KCPT Storybooth is touring the region collecting local stories, experiences, and thoughts related to the Vietnam War. During Big Read KC the booth will visit select Library locations, offering patrons an opportunity to share and record their own stories.
Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.
Friday, Sept. 22 to Thursday, Oct. 12
Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
Saturday, Oct. 14 to Friday, Oct. 20
View a schedule of other regional site visits and watch select video contributions at veterans.kcpt.org.
Veterans Writing Workshops
The Missouri Humanities Council, The Writers' Place, and the Kansas City Public Library offer a series of workshops designed to help veterans and their families develop writing and narrative skills that can empower them to tell their stories, whether they be true-life accounts or wholly original tales.
Workshops are FREE, but space is limited and registration is required.
About NEA Big Read
An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. Showcasing a diverse range of contemporary titles that reflect many different voices and perspectives, the NEA Big Read aims to inspire conversation and discovery. Learn more at neabigread.org.
Big Read KC Partners and Sponsors
- Johnson County Library
- Kansas City Public Library
- Kansas City, Kansas Public Library
- Mid-Continent Public Library
- North Kansas City Public Library
- Olathe Public Library
Official media partner: KCPT - Kansas City PBS
Additional program funding provided through a partnership with the Missouri Humanities Council.