Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 3
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
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Biographer Panthea Reid at Library to Discuss the Riddle of Tillie Olsen

Stuart Mitchner

Princeton resident Panthea Reid will discuss her new book, Tillie Olsen: One Woman, Many Riddles (Rutgers University Press $34.95) in a special author appearance Thursday, January 28, at 4 p.m. in the Community Room at the Princeton Public Library.

The author of Virginia Woolf: Art and Affection and William Faulkner: The Abstract and the Actual, Ms. Reid examines the feminist legend of “Saint Tillie” and offers an objective account that intertwines the story of the iconic feminist hero with the events of her time, from rebellions in Czarist Russia to the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings and beyond. The book is based on diaries, letters, manuscripts, private documents, resurrected public records, and multiple interviews.

According to a review by Carl Rollyson in the Kansas City Star, Tillie Olsen: One Woman, Many Riddles is “a penetrating biography, the first book to unravel the riddle of a life devoted to and tormented by writing.” As the review points out, Olsen’s essay collection, Silences, about the fate of writers, mostly women, “whose lives were interrupted and stifled by the need to work, to raise children, to support husbands and families” was “so powerful that it seemed almost as heroic to relinquish the will to write as it was to remain writing.”

A starred review in Publishers Weekly described the book as “a warts-and-all portrait” of the woman whose life is presented “as a metaphor for the 20th century, encompassing Communist activism, WWII patriotism, early feminism, and civil rights activism,” and credited Reid for painting “a deftly engrossing, nuanced, and meticulously researched portrait of a perplexing, larger-than-life woman.”

All Princeton Public Library programs are free and open to the public. If programs require registration, preference is given to library cardholders. The physically challenged should contact the library at (609) 924-9529 48 hours before any program with questions about special accommodations.

Opinions expressed during programming at Princeton Public Library do not necessarily reflect the views of the library, its staff, trustees or supporters.

The library is in the Sands Library Building at 65 Witherspoon St. in Princeton Borough. Convenient parking is available on neighboring streets and in the borough-operated Spring Street Garage, which is adjacent to the library. For more information about library programs and services, call (609) 924-9529 or visit

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