Thursday, January 04, 2007

Not a Godfather or a President

I just got an email with the obituary of Tillie Olsen in it. She died on January 1.

Olsen is one of my favorite writers. A feminist, socialist, hard-working woman, I have always admired her work. Last semester I wrote a paper on one of her books, trying to see how she uses art to work on social justice issues, so that I can do the same thing.

The obituary, written by Mark Krupnik and published in The Guardian, says

Younger feminists praised Olsen for telling the truth, often bitter and circumscribed, of women's lives. She was speaking for those who passed without the opportunity to leave any kind of mark. For Olsen that meant not only dignifying the life of her own mother, to whom she dedicated [her book Tell Me A Riddle], but also those lives, exploited and forgotten...Her courses in women's writing encouraged a host of books on the difficulties of women striving for the authority ofauthorship.

and also,

With the wealth of capitalist society to support her through grants and fellowships, Olsen in her last decades remained essentially an old-style trade union radical. The difference was that while in the mid-1940s Olsen had addressed herself in the communist press to women labouring in factories, in her latter years she sought to encourage women inuniversities who were trying to liberate themselves by learning to write. She astonished seminar participants by reading and commenting on all the manuscripts of students who sought her attention. Writing students had modelled themselves on the male priests of high modernism, such as Joyce, Proust and Mann, and American inheritors such as Pynchon. Olsen largely succeeded in modelling another, a woman's, way of writing and being.

She was 94.

Olsen's short story, "I Stand Here Ironing," from her collection Tell Me A Riddle is one of my very favorites ever.

Olsen is and was, as her character in the story says "more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron."

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