The Festival is getting close! This week we hear from Peggy Thompson, Ellen Douglass Leyburn Professor of English/Chair. I hope you enjoy!
One of my most memorable experiences at the Writers’ Festival came from Tillie Olsen’s visit. Olsen wrote a story, “I Stand Here Ironing,” which I had always found particularly moving because it contains a line that perfectly captured how I felt leaving my young son at daycare. During her visit, she asked me how I managed having a family and a career; I told her that she understood exactly how I felt, and I quoted her own line back to her. I wasn’t surprised at her interest because she focuses on the multiple responsibilities of women in Silences, her book-length meditation on why women haven’t written more. She puts an important working class twist on Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.”
But Tillie Olsen’s humanity extended far beyond the challenges faced by working women. She was a life-long social activist. I had the privilege of escorting her on the day of her reading. She immediately asked to visit the childhood home of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ebeneezer Baptist Church. She had a million questions for the guide who took us through the home, and I’ll always remember what she wrote in the guestbook at the church: “A holy place.”
That night, she gave a splendid reading, followed by the longest question and answer session in the 24 years I have gone to the festival. Almost all the audience stayed for hours, and she never seemed to tire, even though she must have been in her seventies. She was an amazing human being whose writing is inextricable from her great heart.
Until next time!