Liesl Olson is Director of the Scholl Center for American History and Culture at the Newberry Library in Chicago. From 2005-2009 she taught at the University of Chicago as a Harper-Schmidt Fellow in the Humanities Division. Born in Düsseldorf, Germany, Olson grew up in Kansas City, Missouri and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University. She received her doctorate in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University in New York City. Olson’s first book Modernism and the Ordinary (Oxford U P, 2009) examines a broad range of twentieth-century writers and how their works present the habitual and unselfconscious actions of everyday life. Olson is currently working on a book about the literary and cultural centrality of Chicago in the first half of the twentieth century, Chicago Renaissance: How the Midwest Made Modernism (forthcoming, Yale U P). She lives in Chicago with her husband and three sons.
In 2013, Liesl Olson directed a 4-week National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute, "Making Modernism: Literature and Culture in Twentieth-Century Chicago, 1893-1955." Out of this institute emerged a curated web exhibition, which makes available exemplary and unpublished archival documents from the Newberry Library collection. The exhibition traces the literary and cultural development of Chicago from the 1893 World's Fair through the Black Chicago Renaissance, highlighting such figures as Carl Sandburg, Ernest Hemingway, Harriet Monroe, Sherwood Anderson, Arna Bontemps, and Era Bell Thompson. The site also provides brief essays that frame the material for classroom use and individual research. Contributors include a range of scholars working in the fields of literature, history, art history, print culture, and African-American studies.