Tim O'Brien was born in 1946 in Austin, Minnesota, and spent most of his youth in the small town of Worthington, Minnesota. He graduated summa cum laude from Macalester College in 1968. From February 1969 to March 1970 he served as infantryman with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, after which he pursued graduate studies in government at Harvard University. He worked as a national affairs reporter for The Washington Post from 1973 to 1974.
His short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, Harper's, The Atlantic, Playboy, and Ploughshares, and in several editions of The Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize Stories. In 1987, O'Brien received the National Magazine Award for the short story, “The Things They Carried,” and in 1999 it was selected for inclusion in THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES OF THE CENTURY edited by John Updike. O'Brien is the recipient of literary awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He has been elected to both the Society of American Historians and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. O'Brien currently holds the University Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at Texas State University. He lives with his wife and children in Austin, Texas.