Tillie Olsen

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Tillie Olsen

Tillie Olsen (born January 14, 1912 in Omaha , Nebraska , † January 1, 2007 in Oakland , California ) was an American writer .


Olsen was born as Tillie Lerner to Russian emigrants. Her parents fled to the United States as political refugees from the Tsarist regime in 1905. She grew up in modest circumstances.

She dropped out of high school and worked in various simple professions. However, she was talented and read a lot. At 19, she started writing her first novel, Yonnondio . The title is borrowed from a poem by Walt Whitman and means "Lament for the lost". The novel has many similarities with John Steinbeck 's The Fruits of Wrath , which also deals with the plight of the impoverished workers. He was also influenced by Rebecca Harding Davis' 1861 novel Life in the Iron Mills in Atlantic Monthly . The novel was never finished due to lack of time, but was published as a fragment in 1974.

Olsen's theme is the hard life of ordinary workers and their struggle for justice. At the age of 17 she began to deal with left-wing politics. She was an active member of the Young Communists' League . In 1934 she was imprisoned for her efforts to organize the workers - an experience she described in the essays Thousand-Dollar Vagrant and The Strike that same year . In the times of the “ Popular Front ” such stories were popular and workers were encouraged by various organizations to become literary.

Olsen became known through the story The Iron Throat , which she published in the Partisan Review in 1934 . Thereupon she was approached by publishers. She agreed to Random House . She received a grant for writing one chapter a month.

She gave her young daughter to live with relatives and moved to Los Angeles to write. However, she missed her daughter and ended the contract in 1937. In 1936 she had married Jack Olsen, with whom she had three other daughters. For this she spent the next 20 years, worked in low-wage jobs and was politically committed to workers' rights. She and her husband spent a lot of time in local politics and at trade union events.

It was not until 1953 that she began to write again at the suggestion of her eldest daughter. She took a writing class, where the teacher soon found that he couldn't teach her anything and sent her to another class. She won the Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University for 1955 and 1956. During this time, she wrote short stories again, which were published in 1961 under the title Tell Me a Riddle . It became her most famous work.

The volume of stories earned her several grants, awards and academic degrees of honor. In 1978 a collection of essays appeared on the subject of why people, especially women, are deterred from literary work.

Although her literary output was limited, Olsen had a very strong impact on other authors. She was one of the first US authors to focus on the lives of ordinary workers, but also to look at how the voices of women are suppressed by social circumstances.

Most recently, Olsen lived in Berkeley ( California ), worked as a lecturer and writer and continued to be politically active.

On January 1, 2007, Olsen died at the age of 94 at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland , California .

Film adaptations

  • 1981: Love for a Lifetime ( Tell me a Riddle )

Web links

supporting documents

  1. "A Tribute to Tillie Olsen"