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.
...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.
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
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
'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
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