Tillie was born in l912 to Russian Jewish immigrant parents who escaped Czarist Russia and came to Omaha at th e turn of the century. Tillie has often said that her working class, Socialist background gave her an important consciousness about the world she might otherwise not have gained.
She began writing Yonnondio, from the Thirties when she was sixteen years old because as she stated, “in the books I read, there was no one like the people I knew.” The novel was finally completed and published in l974.
Tillie dropped out of Omaha Central High a year before graduation due to her burning desire and commitment to social change. She began crusading for unions and un-employment relief. "I have no regrets, the library was my college." She became a single mother, had a daughter, Karla, later married Jack Olsen, a fellow organizer, and raised three more daughters. She continued her work as an activist and mother while trying to find time to write. (Tillie's daughters are all strong activists today.)
Tillie’s love and concern for all human beings, especially those disenfranchised by racism and poverty, has been exemplified by her extraordinary writing, first published when she was fifty years old. Tillie knew all too well the challenges of trying to write under difficult circumstances and later created Silences which illustrates in painful detail how such circumstances can silence the creative spirit.
During the resurgence of the women's movement in the early '70's, Tillie was discovered and became known to new feminists who read her work for the first time. She brought to the attention of The Feminist Press, literally hundreds of previously unknown significant women writers and helped established the Press as an important, vital resource. She was also a major force in establishing the field of Women's Studies in universities around the country and in Europe. Tillie continues to be widely regarded as one of the most important women writers of her generation and her work is required reading in many universities.
Tillie's message has always been to uphold our vision and integrity in spite of the odds. A Heart In Action beautifully illustrates Tillie’s unwavering encouragement to all who strive to put forth their own voice and live their life creatively under difficult circumstances.
Tillie's message has always been to uphold our visions and our integrity, in spite of the odds. This project offers Tillie’s unwavering encouragement to all who strive to put forth their own voice and live their life under difficult circumstances.
top of page
Tillie and Maya Angelou