Introduction by Shelley Fisher Fishkin
First published in 1978, Tillie Olsen's Silences revolutionized literary studies and inspired an explosion of new creative voices. By exploring the social and economic conditions that make creativity possible, Olsen sheds new light into the gaps in the literary landscape and canon. She reveals that working-class people, people of color, and all women have in fact always written—though their work has been officially ignored—and she examines the forces they struggled against in order to create forces that led in many cases to premature silence.
With fascinating testimony from authors' diaries and letters, Olsen takes us inside the artistic process, examining the effects of poverty, family duties (especially motherhood), political and religious censorship, and rigid literary norms on writers ranging from Thomas Hardy and Herman Melville to Willa Cather, Virginia Woolf, and Sylvia Plath. For those disadvantaged by gender, class, or race, these obstacles loom even larger. In particular, Olsen makes the case that women writers have faced crushing odds, their talents underestimated, their achievements ignored, the themes of their writing scorned, their very attempt to write condemned as a breach of family duty—and of feminine nature. And yet, as she shows, they have written.
This special 25th-anniversary edition includes an introduction tracing the impact of Silences on women's studies, women's writing, and women's publishing. It also provides a key document of Olsen's work: the famous reading lists that she assembled from her years of research in public libraries.
"What Tillie Olsen has to say . . . is of primary importance to those who want to understand how art is generated or subverted and to those trying to create it themselves."
"Tillie Olsen helps those of us condemned to silence—the poor, the racial minorities, the women—find our voices."
"[Silences is] 'the Bible.' I constantly return to it."
"As much as I learned from Tell Me a Riddle, I learned even more from Tillie's landmark classic and original essay Silences: When Writers Don't Write, which I read while living in Cambridge in the early '70's, raising a small daughter alone and struggling to write myself."
"Silences helped me to keep my sanity many a day."
"Silences will, like A Room of One's Own, be quoted where there is talk of the circumstances in which literature is possible."