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03 January 2007

Tillie Olsen, author of 'Tell Me a Riddle,' dies at age 94

AP Wire | 01/02/2007 |

"I'm trying to get used to the idea of a world without Tillie Olsen," Feminist Press publisher Florence Howe said Tuesday. "She gave me `Life in the Iron Mills' in our first year, when we thought we were going to do biographies and children's books. She changed the whole direction of our press. I had never heard of some of the books she was telling me about."

Olsen did little writing in recent years, but she remained an activist. She participated in a protest against a local retailer, demanding better wages for employees. She also joined the fight in the mid-1990s to stop the San Francisco Public Library from cutting support of books in favor of computers.

"She was remarkable, right to the end," Howe said. "In her last days in the hospital, she would walk around carrying a volume of Emily Dickinson. Tillie's memory was gone by then, but she would read the book aloud, from cover to cover, without missing a beat."

A native of Omaha, Neb., Olsen was the second of seven children of Russian Jewish immigrants. Her father, Samuel Lerner, was a farmer, factory worker and paper hanger and an official in the Nebraska socialist party. While some reference works listed Olsen's year of birth as 1913, Laurie Olsen said her mother was born a year earlier.

Educated in the "school of literature," Tillie Olsen never went to college. By age 18, she had joined the Young Communist League and by her mid-20s she had moved to San Francisco and married fellow activist Jack Olsen, who died in 1989. They had four daughters.

Thanks to j. godsey at The Bibliophile Bullpen for pointing C.P.E. to this news item.

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