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Tillie Olsen: A Heart in Action
A film by Ann Hershey
2007, 66 minutes, Color, DVD
Order No. W09940
This revelatory documentary is an inspiring homage to Tillie Lerner Olsen – a renegade, revolutionary, distinguished fiction and non-fiction writer, feminist, humanist, labor organizer and social activist. Politically active, class conscious, deeply joined to the world, Tillie countered the very core of American writing by immortalizing the lives of working class women and single mothers. Her short stories “Tell Me a Riddle,” and “I Stand Here Ironing,” galvanized the literary world and set in motion an essential new perspective on the lives of ordinary women.

Filmmaker Ann Hershey tells not only the story of Olsen as a writer, but also documents her life as an activist. Extended interviews with Olsen during the last years of her life are deftly interspersed with footage from her readings, lectures and book signings as well as with archive materials and comments from notable feminists such as Gloria Steinem and Alice Walker. A perfect companion film in courses covering Olsen’s literature, this documentary is also recommended for women’s studies, labor studies, political studies and American history courses.


  • Films de Femmes, Créteil

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    “Spectacularly shot…Tillie reading her work will convince you she never left us. The way she wove her social activism with motherhood, aging, teaching and her fiction is an inspiration.”
    Jewelle Gomez
    Author, “The Gilda Stories”

    "Highly Recommended. A must-buy for any educational institution that teaches women’s studies, women’s literature, feminist or gender studies, working class studies and labor relations/activism"
    Ciara Healy
    Educational Media Reviews Online

    "Tillie Olsen's impassioned voice against the oppression of women inspired the voices of a new generation. For Olsen, art and humanity were one; her life was her work of art"
    Janet L. Holmgren
    President, Mills College

    “Welcome viewing for those interested in creative writing, social history, or women's studies.”
    Library Journal

    “A Heart in Action is, without a doubt, a gift to educators who are invested in trying to train students to develop a historical and political imagination. It restores Olsen to the thirties milieu that formed her political sensibilities while simultaneously insisting upon her currency for ongoing projects of cultural studies and feminist activism within the present. Educators interested in using Hershey’s film might place it in conversation with works of feminist theory and cultural studies..”
    Sonali Perera
    Films for the Feminist Classroom, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society

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    Tillie Olsen: A Heart in Action is included in the following Special Collections.
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WMM offers film collections on a variety of specific subject areas, including the collections VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN: Ending the Silence, BODY IMAGE, and AFRICAN-AMERICAN: Celebrate the Lives of African-American Women.

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© Women Make Movies, 2005
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Women Make Movies is a multicultural, multiracial, non-profit media arts organization which facilitiates the production, promotion, distribution, and exhibition of independent films and videotapes by and about women. contact us