Quotes by Tillie Olsen, Author of Tell Me a Riddle

Silences by Tillie Olsen

Tillie Olsen (1912 – 2007) was born in Nebraska to Russian-Jewish immigrants whose socialist politics and activism inspired her work. Olsen wrote her first novel, Yonnondio at the age of 19 while she was helping support her family. She felt she didn’t fulfill her potential as a writer, spending many years raising four daughters. She poured some of that frustration into what’s now considered a feminist classic, Silences. Perhaps her best known work is Tell Me a Riddle. Here’s a selection of  quotes by Tillie Olsen.


“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.”


“The clock talked loud. I threw it away, it scared me what it talked.”


“Time granted does not necessarily coincide with time that can be most fully used.”


“… I’m a human being and human beings have a need to express themselves.”


” I very much dislike the word ‘race,’ and I never use it. I use the word ‘racist.’ Race is not a fact. There is only one race: human. Skin color is less than 2 percent of the DNA.” (From an interview for The Progressive, 1999)


Tillie Olsen

See also: Silences by Tillie Olsen: On Being a Writer and a Mother


“History gives me hope.” (From an interview for The Progressive, 1999)


“I could not live by literature if only to begin with, because of the slow maturing of my work and its special character.”


“There are worse words than cuss words, there are words that can hurt.” (Tell Me a Riddle, 1961)


“More than in any other human relationship, overwhelmingly more, motherhood means being instantly interruptible, responsive, responsible.”


“And when is there time to remember, to sift, to weigh, to estimate, to total?”


“Be critical: Women have the right to say: this is surface, this falsifies reality, this is degrades.”



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