Tillie Olsen

I didn’t know she died last year. I’m feeling a bit like a door just hit me in the face. I came to know her through her work at CUNY’s Feminist Press, and it was like a revelation: a working class white woman writer, brilliant and often neglected. Her book Silences was then, & is now, a revelation.

The NYT notes, in her obituary, that when Margaret Atwood reviewed it when it came out, she said:

“It begins with an account, first drafted in 1962, of her own long, circumstantially enforced silence,” Ms. Atwood wrote. “She did not write for a very simple reason: A day has 24 hours. For 20 years she had no time, no energy and none of the money that would have bought both.”

The books she helped bring back – like Life in the Iron Mills and Daughter of Earth (Agnes Smedley’s autobiography) were some of the first reflections of where my people came from I’d ever read.

How frustrating not to have known.

2 Replies to “Tillie Olsen”

  1. When she worked at the Feminist Press, she had them reprint books (like the two I listed) by women writers, that had gone out of print.

    “My people” were miners, on my mother’s side, or otherwise factory workers & the like = ie, working class eastern europeans. Pretty much working class on my father’s side, too, though they were in Brooklyn & had more urban jobs. In either case, people I refer to as “Catholic Diaspora.”

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