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Tillie Olsen

  • For forty-seven years they had been married. How deep back the stubborn, gnarled roots of the quarrel reached, no one could say — but only now, when tending to the needs of others no longer shackled them together, the roots swelled up visible, split the earth between them, and the tearing shook even to the children, long since grown.

    • Tillie Olsen,
    • title story, Tell Me a Riddle ()
  • She would not exchange her solitude for anything. Never again to be forced to move to the rhythms of others.

    • Tillie Olsen,
    • title story, Tell Me a Riddle ()
  • Vinegar he poured on me all his life; I am well marinated; how can I be honey now?

    • Tillie Olsen,
    • title story, Tell Me a Riddle ()
  • Lennie, suffering not alone for her who was dying, but for that in her which never lived (for that which in him might never live). From him too, unspoken words: Good-bye Mother who taught me to mother myself.

    • Tillie Olsen,
    • title story, Tell Me a Riddle ()
  • Grandaddy, Grandaddy don't cry. She is not there, she promised me. On the last day, she said she would go back to when she first heard music, a little girl on the road of the village where she was born. She promised me. It is a wedding and they dance, while the flutes so joyous and vibrant tremble in the air. Leave her there, Grandaddy, it is all right. She promised me. Come back, come back and help her poor body to die.

    • Tillie Olsen,
    • title story, Tell Me a Riddle ()
  • Such hard work it is to die? Such hard work?

    • Tillie Olsen,
    • title story, Tell Me a Riddle ()
  • There are worse words than cuss words, there are words that hurt.

    • Tillie Olsen,
    • "Hey Sailor, What Ship?" Tell Me a Riddle ()
  • That's what I want to be when I grow up, just a peaceful wreck holding hands with other peaceful wrecks ...

    • Tillie Olsen,
    • "Hey Sailor, What Ship?" Tell Me a Riddle ()
  • School was a worry to her. She was not glib or quick in a world where glibness and quickness were easily confused with ability to learn.

    • Tillie Olsen,
    • "I Stand Here Ironing," Tell Me A Riddle ()
  • The clock talked loud. I threw it away, it scared me what it talked.

    • Tillie Olsen,
    • "I Stand Here Ironing," Tell Me A Riddle ()
  • So all that is in her will not bloom — but in how many does it?

    • Tillie Olsen,
    • "I Stand Here Ironing," Tell Me A Riddle ()
  • We who write are survivors.

    • Tillie Olsen,
    • in Sara Ruddick and Pamela Daniels, Working It Out ()
  • Motherhood means being instantly interruptible, responsive, responsible.

  • Compared to men writers of like distinction and years of life, few women writers have had lives of unbroken productivity, or leave behind a 'body of work.' Early beginnings, then silence; or clogged late ones (foreground silences); long periods between books (hidden silences); characterize most of us.

  • Writers in a profit making economy are an exploitable commodity whose works are products to be marketed, and are so judged and handled.

  • Literature is a place for generosity and affection and hunger for equals — not a prizefight ring. We are increased, confirmed in our medium, roused to do our best, by every good writer, every fine achievement. Would we want one good writer or fine book less? The sense of writers being pitted against each other is bred primarily by the workings of the commercial marketplace, and by critics lauding one writer at the expense of another while ignoring the existence of nearly all.

  • Not to have an audience is a kind of death.

  • The habits of a lifetime when everything else had to come before writing are not easily broken, even when circumstances now often make it possible for writing to be first; habits of years — responses to others, distractibility, responsibility for daily matters — stay with you, mark you, become you. The cost of discontinuity (that pattern still imposed on women) is such a weight of things unsaid, an accumulation of material so great, that everything starts up something else in me; what should take weeks take me sometimes months to write; what should take months, takes years.

Tillie Olsen, U.S. novelist, critic, essayist

(1912 - 2007)