Top of the Rock for October 1998


It's a great pleasure for the Creighton University creative writing program and the University of Nebraska — Omaha's Writers' Workshop to announce a visit by Tillie Olsen, one of the most important fiction writers of our time. The author of several books of monumental importance, including the modern classics Tell Me a Riddle and Silences, Olsen was born in 1912 in the Russian Jewish and Socialist community in Omaha. She will do a book signing in Omaha on October 14th at 5:45 in the Art Gallery of the Del and Lou An Weber Fine Arts Bldg on the University of Nebraska — Omaha campus. On October 16th she will be reading from her work at 8:00 PM in the Ockinga Seminar Center at the University of Nebraska — Kearney. Admission is free. Please call 308.234.8299 for more information.
When she wrote Tell Me a Riddle, Tillie Olsen, like William Blake, covered paper with words "for the angels to read." — John Leonard
Everything she has written has become almost immediately a classic. — Robert Coles
...exists in the realm in which craftsmanship is transformed into mystery, and criticism comes close to irrelevance. — Saturday Review
Few writers have gained such wide respect on such a small body of published work....Among women writers in the United States, "respect" is too pale a word: "reverence" is more like it. This is presumably because women writers, even more than their male counterparts, recognize what a heroic feat it is to have held down a job, raised four children, and still somehow managed to become and to remain a writer. — Margaret Atwood
A legend walked the Creighton campus last Wednesday, a piece of history, a part of the main. The legend took the form of the world-renowned Tillie Olsen, one of the most celebrated American writers of this century. And she's from Omaha.
Olsen is the author of Tell Me a Riddle, a collection of stories; Silences, a nonfiction book on the lives and voices of women; and Yonnondio: From the Thirties, a novel — books that have been designated modern classics by readers and critics alike. Her short story "I Stand Here roning" may be the most anthologized story of the century. Her subject, most often, is the powerless, the people with voices that don't get heard — particularly women, minorities, and the poor. And she's written about these people with such grace and insight that she's won nearly every major literary award.
You wouldn't think she's all of eighty-six years old, not the way she seemed to sprint around town, stopping to talk with people, sharing memories, creating new ones. She grew up on Caldwell Street, near 24th, and Creighton University was on her way to and from Central High each day. "I remember Father Rigge," she said. "He used to run the observatory. I'd stop by on my way home from school every day. He took the time to teach me all about the stars. Who was I? Just a child. But he took the time. He was a very generous man." When she was shown the Rigge Science Building, named in his honor, she became thoughtful, giving her escort's arm a satisfied pat.
The thought of her walks to Central High made her want to visit with the principal. "I recall you as a bit of a rebel," he said. Ms Olsen, who prefers to be called Tillie, smiled. As the daughter of the state secretary of the Socialist Party, she was raised on rebellion. And though it's been a few years since she's been arrested for demonstrating against inequality and injustice, she's still as keenly concerned as ever. "I had wonderful teachers here," she said. "Central High was equal in quality to any eastern boarding school. "Look at that," she said, pointing at the elaborate tile work in the school's entryway. "Such a grand building. That was a message to the eastern schools — 'we're just as good as you!' The teachers I hate are the ones who make children think they aren't fit for college if they're poor or if their skin's a different color."
Tillie never went to college. "Public libraries were my university," she said. She worked in the slaughterhouses of south Omaha and in a long line of factory jobs, also raising two children almost singlehandedly. Her book Silences is a moving account of those days and of the forces that have silenced women's voices for centuries. Despite her lack of formal education, she has received over a dozen honorary degrees, and her books are taught in every university in the country.
She wasn't content with a simple stroll across campus. She wanted — needed — to know all about the students, the faculty. "Are they smart?" she said. "Do they care?" Just then she was met by Dr Pat Fleming (Dept of Philosophy) and Dr Bridget Keegan (Dept of English), who presented her with a Mary Lucretia Creighton t-shirt from the Committee on the Status of Women. When she heard that Mary Lucretia, not her more famous husband and brother, actually founded the university, she instantly took off her DKNY jacket and donned the t-shirt. Ever the rebel, she said, "I love it! I'm making an appearance at UNO later today. I don't supposed they'd like it if I showed up wearing this!"
Later that day, after returning to Creighton House, across the street from Central High, she sighed. "All these years away, and I discover I'm an Omaha girl at last!"
Tillie Olsen is all about respect, respect for the past, for achievement, for character, for wisdom, and for the things of this world that embody them — from the rich texture of the bricks lining Creighton's mall to the deep burgundy of the barberry trees on Dodge Street to the skyline of the city she loves. — Brent Spencer, Omaha World-Herald, November 7, 1998

Past Top of the Rock Features

redball.gif Nebraska Literature Festival
redball.gif Duane Hutchinson
redball.gif George O'Connell's Getting the Range
redball.gif Art Homer
redball.gif Creighton Conference
redball.gif Black Star Press
redball.gif Mildred Walker
redball.gif Critical Care
redball.gif Self Storage
redball.gif South of Resurrection
redball.gif Solstice '97
redball.gif Iron Mountain Road
redball.gif The Women at the Well
redball.gif Susan Aizenberg's Peru
redball.gif Nebraska Poets Calendar
redball.gif Nebraska Book Arts Center
redball.gif Missouri Valley Reading Series
redball.gif Nebraska Cowboy Poetry Gathering
redball.gif Paper Wings
redball.gif Nebraska Shakespeare Festival
redball.gif Prairie Schooner
redball.gif Nebraska Poets
redball.gif Atticus

The Rock

Nebraska Center for Writers