Born (either 1912 or 1914) and raised as a small child in the rural farming community near Mead, NE, Tillie Olsen’s family moved to Omaha in 1918. Her parents were both immigrants from the Russian Jewish community, and were active in the Socialist Party and especially the Workmen’s Circles, a national Jewish Socialist movement which was strong in Omaha in the 1920s. The family’s home life included regular political activities and labor organizing. In her twenties, Tillie rebeled against her parents’ views by joining the Young Communist League in 1931…a move that carried her to Kansas City and St. Joseph, MO, where she assisted in organizing labor strikes. By the mid-1930s, Tillie had moved to Minnesota, where she started writing Yonnondio: From the Thirties, and eventually to California.
In California, Tillie met and married Jack Olsen, a fellow radical, with whom she had four children. Although the demands of motherhood prevented Tillie from continuing with her writing, she remained active in labor organizing. She finally returned to her novel in the 1950s, after her husband found the manuscript for Yonnondio and encouraged her to resume writing. As she gained fame, she used her notoriety to shine a light on the issues of women writers, and to try to resurrect long-lost works by other women writers. Much of her additional printed work has dealt with the plight of women writers, and with the often-loving, often-divisive relationships between mothers and daughters.
(Additional information about Tillie Olsen can be found at the following Web sites:)
Tell Me a Riddle
A collection of four long stories: “I Stand Here Ironing”; “Hey Sailor, What Ship?”; “O Yes”; and “Tell Me a Riddle.” Each of these stories has appeared in other anthologies as well.
By Rebecca Harding Davis, with a biographical interpretation by Tillie Olsen.
Yonnondio: From the Thirties
A collection of related essays on the topic of the difficulties faced by women writers.
A collection of comments and personal anecdotes about the mother-daughter relationship.
The Lincoln City Libraries owns numerous anthologies including work by Tillie Olsen. You will also find other items associated with Olsen by doing either Subject — or Author — searches in our catalog under “Olsen, Tillie.”
adapted for the Web March 2006 sdc / last updated October 2016 sdc