Fifty years ago, amid rising anger and unrest, America was grinding through its long, painful and ultimately unwinnable war in Vietnam. Nightly newscasts took grim account of the dead and missing. Nearly half the country considered it "a mistake." Weary and dispirited, Lyndon Johnson would announce within months that he'd end his presidency after a single term.
It played out against an iconic soundtrack—We gotta get out of this place—that reverberates to this day.
In a remarkable collaboration, the Kansas City area's six public libraries are revisiting that turbulent period in history through a community-wide reading and discussion of Tim O'Brien's seminal book The Things They Carried. This local edition of the 2017 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read initiative features speaking presentations, film screenings, youth activities, and group discussions of O'Brien's evocative collection of stories about a fictional platoon of U.S. soldiers before, during, and after the Vietnam War.
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. O'Brien's book consists of 22 interrelated stories illuminating both the physical horror and emotional toll of the conflict. It sold more than 2 million copies and made O'Brien a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1991.
NEA Big Read KC offers a broad and illuminating examination of the Vietnam War era with signature presentations that delve into topics including the music of the period, Hollywood's handling of the war, comparisons of 1960s protests with present-day movements, and writing about war.
The Vietnam remembrance coincides with the September premiere of Ken Burns' latest documentary series, The Vietnam War, on KCPT-Kansas City PBS and other public television stations across the nation. Burns and co-director Lynn Novick kick off Big Read KC with a KCPT-sponsored appearance Sept. 8. The 10-part, 18-hour series begins airing on PBS on Sept. 17.
For details on all Big Read KC programs, activities, and other resources, visit bigreadkc.org.
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.