Olsen Tillie Lerner was born as a child of Russian emigrants. Her parents had fled in 1905 as political refugees to the United States in front of the Tsarist regime. She grew up in modest circumstances.
She broke off from high school and worked in various simple occupations. However, she was talented and read a lot. At 19, she began to write her first novel Yonnondio. The title is borrowed from a poem by Walt Whitman, meaning " action for the lost ." The novel has many similarities with John Steinbeck's work, The Grapes of Wrath, which also deals with the situation of impoverished workers. He was also influenced by the 1861 published in the Atlantic Monthly novella Life in the Iron Mills by Rebecca Harding Davis. The novel was never finished due to time constraints, but published in 1974 as a fragment.
Olsen's topic is the hard lives of ordinary workers and their struggle for justice. At the age of 17, she began to come to terms with left-wing politics. She was an active member of the Young Communists ' League. In 1934 she was organizing for their efforts, workers, imprisoned - an experience which they in the same year in the essays described Thousand Dollar Vagrant and The Strike. In the times of the "Popular Front" such stories were popular and workers / unionists were sponsored by various organizations to be literary works.
Olsen is best known for the story of The Iron Throat, which they published in the Partisan Review in 1934. She was then approached by publishers. She said to Random House. You should write a chapter per month and got a scholarship for it.
She gave her little daughter to live with relatives and moved to Los Angeles to write. However, she missed her daughter and ended the contract 1937. 1936 she married Jack Olsen, with whom she had three more daughters. For this they turned the next 20 years on, worked in low-wage jobs and became politically active for the rights of workers / inside. Together with her husband she spent a lot of time in local politics and in trade union activities.
Not until 1953 that she started at the suggestion of her oldest daughter to write again. She took part in a writing class, where the teacher soon found out that he can teach her anything and she sent to another course. She won the Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University for the years 1955 and 1956. During this time she again wrote short stories that were published in 1961 under the title Tell Me a Riddle. It was her most famous work.
The short story collection won her several grants, awards and academic honorary degrees. In 1978, a collection of essays on the topic of why people, especially women, are held by literary work.
Even though their literary work had only a very small extent, Olsen looked very strong on other authors. She was one of the first U.S. women writers who made the lives of ordinary workers to the topic, but also looked at how women's voices are suppressed by social circumstances.
Last Olsen lived in Berkeley (California), worked as a lecturer and writer, and was more politically active.
On 1 January 2007 Olsen died, 94 years old, in the Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, California.