Report from Day 1 of the Eckerd College Writers’ Conference

The tenth annual Eckerd College Writers Conference kicked off this evening with a wine and cheese reception and a program featuring Tim O’Brien, author of Going After Cacciato (1979), The Things They Carried (1990), In the Lake of the Woods (1994), July, July (2002) and others.

O’Brien, winner of the National Book Award, the James Fenimore Cooper Prize and other honors, read a passage from The Things They Carried and chatted for a short while with Dennis Lehane about ambiguity and surety, beauty and war. At one point he asked was the expenditure of three million Vietnamese and sixty thousand American lives worth it, given that we “lost” the war without having lost our country’s freedom.

He closed with a strong statement about the written word, telling the story of including mention in one of his stories of a young girl in his elementary school who he says he loved, but who died. The girl’s mother found the story and wrote to him, saying she had thought her memory of the girl’s short life was the only thing left of that life, but O’Brien’s writing about her means that something intangible, but undeniable will live for as long as people read that story.

That story struck home hard because there was a young girl in my elementary school, Nancy McCullough, the sister of my classmate Sue, who came down with leukemia (I believe) and who died after a heroic fight. So, O’Brien’s story to me says that not only does the memory of the girl he knew live, but the memory of every boy and girl who succumed to that dreadful childhood disease lives on in some intangible, but undeniable way.

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 This participant got to meet some of writer-students, including three who are in the same novel-writing workshop. It’s a diverse group––friendly and excited as I am to be here.

Today (Sunday) we are to be welcomed by the conference co-chairs, Sterling Watson and Dennis Lehane, and this afternoon, we will get to meet our workshop leaders and delve into two of the writers’ works.

Tonight the reading series continues with Lehane and Andre Dubus III.

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