Olson writes a monthly column on higher education administration for the Chronicle of Higher Education. He has written or edited 22 books and almost 100 essays and articles on subjects including the role of theory in rhetorical scholarship, the connections between ideology and discourse, and the contributions of Stanley Fish to literary and rhetorical studies.
Olson obtained his PhD from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1980. His early research at the University of Alabama and the University of North Carolina-Wilmington focused on rhetoric and writing studies.
In 1985, Olson moved to the University of South Florida and became editor of the scholarly journal JAC, moving from writing studies toward the intersections between rhetoric, ideology, culture, and literary theory. While at the University of South Florida, Olson became a full professor.
In 1991, Olson began conducting scholarly interviews of internationally prominent intellectuals including anthropologist Clifford Geertz, linguist Noam Chomsky, deconstructionist Jacques Derrida, postmodern theorist Jean-François Lyotard, philosopher of science Sandra Harding, theorist and cultural critic Donna Haraway, political philosopher Ernesto Laclau, and feminist theorist bell hooks. These interviews were published in JAC and in a series of books.
In 1994, the Council of Editors of Learned Journals presented Olson with an International Award for Distinguished Editor for his decade of work editing JAC.
In 2002, the Association for Teachers of Advanced Composition established an annual book award in Olson’s name: The Gary A. Olson Award for the most outstanding book on rhetorical and cultural theory. Also in 2002, Olson became Interim Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg (chief academic officer).
In 2004, he became the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Illinois State University, where he was also Professor of English and affiliate faculty in the Women's Studies department.
In 2009, Olson became the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Idaho State University where he oversaw the creation of the institution's Division of Health Sciences, its College of Science and Engineering, and its College of Arts and Letters. In 2009, Idaho State University President Arthur Vailas directed Olson to form three task forces to consider potential consolidation of units within Academic Affairs. After revising the plan in response to faculty input, Olson submitted the plan to the President. The faculty subsequently voted no-confidence in him. Olson stepped down as provost a year later, in 2011, in order to write the authorized biography of Stanley Fish.
In 2012, it was announced that Olson would become president of Daemen College in Amherst, New York. Also that year, the Idaho Humanities Council awarded him a grant to help him complete the authorized biography of Stanley Fish, and Indiana University of Pennsylvania awarded him its highest honor: The Distinguished Alumni Award. He was also inducted into the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, the "oldest and largest collegiate honor society dedicated to the recognition and promotion of academic excellence in all disciplines." Also in 2012, the Southeastern Writing Center Association announced an annual faculty award in Olson’s name: The Gary A. Olson Scholarship. Olson founded the organization in 1980.
• Olson’s Chronicle of Higher Education columns can be accessed at http://garyaolson.com
• Olson, Gary A. A Creature of Our Own Making: Reflections on Contemporary Academic Life. State U of New York P, 2013.
• Olson, Gary A., and Lynn Worsham, eds. Education as Civic Engagement: Toward a More Democratic Society. Palgrave-Macmillan, 2012.
• Olson, Gary A., and John Presley, eds. The Future of Higher Education: Perspectives from America’s Academic Leaders. Paradigm, 2009.
• Worsham, Lynn, and Gary A. Olson, eds. Plugged In: Technology, Rhetoric, and Culture in a Posthuman Age. Hampton Press, 2008.
• Olson, Gary A., and Lynn Worsham, eds. The Politics of Possibility: Encountering the Radical Imagination. Paradigm, 2007.
• Olson, Gary A., and Lynn Worsham, eds. Postmodern Sophistry: Stanley Fish and the Critical Enterprise. State U of New York P, 2004. Afterword by Stanley Fish.
• Olson, Gary A., and Lynn Worsham. Critical Intellectuals on Writing. State U of New York P, 2003.
• Olson, Gary A. Justifying Belief: Stanley Fish and the Work of Rhetoric. State U of New York P, 2002. Foreword by Stanley Fish; Afterword by J. Hillis Miller.
• Olson, Gary A., ed. Rhetoric and Composition as Intellectual Work. Southern Illinois UP, 2002.
• Worsham, Lynn, Sidney Dobrin, and Gary A. Olson, eds. The Kinneavy Papers: Theory and the Study of Discourse. State U of New York P, 2000.
• Ashton-Jones, Evelyn, Gary A. Olson, and Merry Perry, eds. The Gender Reader, 2nd ed. Allyn and Bacon, 2000.
• Olson, Gary A., and Lynn Worsham. Race, Rhetoric, and the Postcolonial. State U of New York P, 1999.
• Olson, Gary A., Elizabeth Metzger, and Evelyn Ashton-Jones, eds. Advanced Placement English: Theory, Politics, and Pedagogy, 2nd printing. Boynton/Cook, 1989.
• Olson, Gary A., and Todd Taylor, eds. Publishing in Rhetoric and Composition. State U of New York P, 1997. Foreword by J. Hillis Miller.
• Olson, Gary A., and Julie Drew, eds. Landmark Essays on Advanced Composition. Erlbaum, 1996.
• Olson, Gary A., and Elizabeth Hirsh. Women Writing Culture. State U of New York P, 1995. Foreword by Donna Haraway; Afterword by Henry Giroux.
• Olson, Gary A., and Sidney Dobrin, eds. Composition Theory for the Postmodern Classroom. State U of New York P, 1994.
• Olson, Gary A. Philosophy, Rhetoric, Literary Criticism. Southern Illinois UP, 1994. Foreword by Clifford Geertz.