Tillie Olsen (1912-2007) did not produce much work in her lifetime, but what she did made a great impact on many. Born in Nebraska, Olsen did not do well in school and left to work so she could support her parents and six siblings. Her parents were Russian Jewish immigrants and their socialist views and activism added much to Olsen’s childhood and influenced her later life.
Olson started writing her first novel, Yonnondio, at the age of 19 while sick with tuberculosis; she found out she was also pregnant. She published the first three chapters as a short story called The Iron Throat in The Partisan Review, which lead to Olsen signing with Random House and she went to work in Los Angeles. She could not stand being away from her daughter and in 1937 with her novel unfinished, she went back home. She was married in 1944 and had two more daughters.Olsen worked odd jobs to support her husband and children whom were her top priority.
Writing very little in her downtime but in the 1950’s, with her daughters now older, she went back to school for writing. With great encouragement she produced work that showcased lower class, hard working people, especially mothers. Olsen is recognized worldwide for her strong, intense writing that was artistically and beautifully put together. Also known for her activism, like her parents, she fought for women’s and human rights, against the war and overall justice and equality for the world. She won countless awards for both her writing and activism.
- Tillie Olsen on Wikipedia
- A Tribute to Tillie Olsen
- The Tillie Olsen Film Project
- Tillie Olsen Interview – The Progressive
- Tillie Olsen Papers – Department of Special Collections, Green Library, Stanford, CA
“I know that I haven’t powers enough to divide myself into one who earns and one who creates.”
“Be critical. Women have the right to say: This is surface, this falsifies reality, this degrades.”
“I could not live by literature if only to begin with, because of the slow maturing of my work and its special character.”
“More than in any other human relationship, overwhelmingly more, motherhood means being instantly interruptible, responsive, responsible.”