Encyclopedia of Feminist Literature

By Kathy J. Whitson | Go to book overview

O

OLSEN, TILLIE

Tillie Olsen's reputation as an important twentieth-century feminist writer rests on a relatively small but highly respected body of fictional and nonfictional work, which has been praised by Margaret Atwood, Adrienne Rich, Alice Walker, and Maxine Hong Kingston, among others. In the tradition of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, Olsen's nonfiction essay collection Silences (1978) explores the “relationship of circumstances—including class, color, sex; the times, climate into which one is born—to the creation of literature.” Like Woolf's fantasy scenario about the limitations that Shakespeare's “gifted sister” Judith might have faced, Olsen's own literary career exemplifies the “unnatural thwarting of what struggles to come into being, but cannot” (n.p.), which she takes as her theme in Silences.

Born Tillie Lerner to Russian Jewish immigrant parents in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1912 or 1913, Tillie was raised in a Socialist, humanist, secular household. Her father, Samuel Lerner, left Russia after the failed 1905 revolution and fled to the United States where he married fellow Russian immigrant Ida Beber. Samuel Lerner eventually became secretary of the Nebraska Socialist Party, and Tillie became a political activist in her teens, joining the Young People's Socialist League and the Young Communist League. Her formal education ended in the eleventh grade, but she read widely and eclectically. During the early thirties, she was jailed for helping to organize a strike at a packing house in Kansas City.

At the age of nineteen, Tillie moved briefly to Minnesota to recover from tuberculosis. While there, she became pregnant and began working on a novel (later published as Yonnondio). She moved to California in 1933, continuing to work as a political activist and writer. The following year, she published a few poems and a short story titled “The Iron Throat” (later the first chapter of Yonnondio)

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Encyclopedia of Feminist Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page ii
  • Contents v
  • List of Entries vii
  • Introduction ix
  • A 1
  • References and Suggested Readings 3
  • References and Suggested Readings 7
  • References and Suggested Readings 13
  • References and Suggested Readings 17
  • References and Suggested Readings 20
  • References and Suggested Readings 24
  • B 33
  • References and Suggested Readings 35
  • References and Suggested Readings 44
  • References and Suggested Readings 48
  • C 56
  • D 72
  • References and Suggested Readings 78
  • E 80
  • F 82
  • References and Suggested Readings 91
  • References and Suggested Readings 95
  • G 96
  • References and Suggested Readings 105
  • H 106
  • References and Suggested Readings 116
  • References and Suggested Readings 123
  • I 124
  • J 125
  • K 132
  • L 140
  • References and Suggested Readings 144
  • References and Suggested Readings 146
  • M 150
  • References and Suggested Readings 176
  • N 177
  • References and Suggested Readings 186
  • O 187
  • P 193
  • References and Suggested Readings 201
  • References and Suggested Readings 205
  • R 206
  • References and Suggested Readings 207
  • References and Suggested Readings 212
  • S 213
  • References and Suggested Readings 220
  • References and Suggested Readings 221
  • References and Suggested Readings 226
  • References and Suggested Readings 232
  • References and Suggested Readings 243
  • Y 244
  • References and Suggested Readings 249
  • References and Suggested Readings 250
  • W 251
  • References and Suggested Readings 256
  • References and Suggested Readings 284
  • Y 285
  • Index 293
  • About the Author 301
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