Grace Paley

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Grace Paley
Grace Paley.jpg
BornGrace Goodside
(1922-12-11)December 11, 1922
The Bronx, New York City
DiedAugust 22, 2007(2007-08-22) (aged 84)
Thetford, Vermont
Occupation
  • Writer
  • poet
  • political activist
  • teacher
NationalityAmerican
Alma materHunter College (no degree)
The New School (no degree)
Notable works"Goodbye and Good Luck"
"The Used-Boy Raisers"
Notable awardsmember, American Academy of Arts and Letters
SpouseJess Paley
Robert Nichols
ChildrenNora Paley
Danny Paley

Grace Paley (December 11, 1922 – August 22, 2007) was an American short story author, poet, teacher, and political activist.

Paley wrote three critically acclaimed collections of short stories, which were compiled in the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist The Collected Stories in 1994.[1][2] Her stories hone in on the everyday conflicts and heartbreaks of city life, heavily informed by her childhood in the Bronx.[3]

Beyond her work as an author and university professor, Paley was a feminist and anti-war activist, describing herself as a "somewhat combative pacifist and cooperative anarchist."[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Grace Paley was born Grace Goodside on December 11, 1922, in the Bronx, to Jewish parents, Isaac Goodside and the former Manya Ridnyik, who were originally from Ukraine, and were socialists—especially her mother.[2][4] They had immigrated 16–17 years before (in 1906, by one account[2])[4]—following a period, under the rule of the Ukraine by Czar Nicholas II, that saw their exile, her mother to Germany and her father to Siberia—with the change of name from Gutseit as they began their new life in New York.[2]

The family would speak Russian and Yiddish in the home, and eventually English (which her father would learn "by reading Dickens").[4] Isaac would train and become a doctor in New York, and the couple would have two children early, and a third, Grace, as they approached middle age.[2] Fourteen years younger than her sister, Jeanne, and sixteen years younger than her brother, Victor, Grace was described as being a tomboy as a child.[5] As a child she was tuned in to the intellectual debates of the adults around her, and she was a member of the Falcons, a socialist youth group.[6]

After dropping out of high school at sixteen,[6] Grace Goodside attended Hunter College for a year (spanning 1938-1939[7]), then married a film camerman, Jess Paley, when she was 19,[2] on June 20, 1942.[5] The Paleys would have two children, Nora (1949-) and Danny (1951-), but would later divorce.[6][8] Writing to introduce an interview in The Paris Review, Jonathan Dee, Barbara Jones, and Larissa MacFarquhar note that

Writing has only occasionally been Paley’s main occupation. She spent a lot of time in playgrounds when her children were young. She has always been very active in the feminist and peace movements...[4]

Paley studied briefly with W. H. Auden, at the New School, when she was seventeen,[5] pursuing a hope to be a poet.[2] She did not receive a degree from either institution.[6]

Writing[edit]

Early in her writing career, Paley experienced a number of rejections for her submitted works.[6] She published her first collection, The Little Disturbances of Man (1959) with Doubleday.[2] The collection features eleven stories of New York life, several of which have since been widely anthologized, particularly "Goodbye and Good Luck" and "The Used-Boy Raisers," and introduces the semi-autobiographical character "Faith Darwin" (in "The Used-Boy Raisers" and "A Subject of Childhood")—who later appears in six stories of Enormous Changes at the Last Minute and nine of Later the Same Day.[9][6][10][11] Though as a story collection by an unknown author the book was not widely reviewed, those who did review it, including Philip Roth and The New Yorker book page, tended to rate the stories highly.[10] Despite an initial lack of publicity, Little Disturbances developed a sufficient following for it to be reissued by Viking Press in 1968.[12]

Following the success of Little Disturbances, Paley's publisher encouraged her to write a novel, but she gave up on the attempt after tinkering with drafts for two years. She instead continued to focus on short stories.[7]

With the encouragement of her friend and neighbor Donald Barthelme,[6][4] Paley assembled a second collection of fiction in 1974, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, which was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.[2] This collection of seventeen stories features several recurring characters from Little Disturbances (most notably the narrator "Faith," but also including John Raftery and his mother), while continuing Paley's exploration of racial, gender, and class issues.[9] The long story "Faith in a Tree," positioned roughly at the center of the collection, brings a number of characters and themes from the stories together on a Saturday afternoon at the park; in it, Faith, the narrator, climbs a tree to get a broader perspective on both her neighbors and the "man-wide world" and, after encountering several war protesters, declares a new social and political commitment.[9] The collection's shifting narrative voice, metafictive qualities and fragmented, incomplete plots have led some critics to classify it as a postmodernist work.[2][13][14][15][16]

In Later the Same Day (1985), also published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux,[2] Paley continues the stories of Faith and her neighbors—but somewhat expanded, with the addition of more black and lesbian voices.[9][17]

Paley's stories were regathered in a volume from Farrar, Straus in 1994, The Collected Stories, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.[2]

Her work has been characterized as dealing with the day-to-day triumphs and tragedies of "women — mostly Jewish, mostly New Yorkers."[2] As one editor who worked with Paley wrote, "Her characters are people who smell of onions, yell at each other, mourn in darkened kitchens."[18] She wrote what she knew:

"I couldn’t help the fact that I had not gone to war, and I had not done the male things. I had lived a woman’s life and that’s what I wrote about."[19]

Her sharp dialogue is marked by the rhythms of Yiddish, and her stories tend to reflect the "shouts and murmurs of secular Yiddishkeit."[2]

Although more widely known for her short fiction, Paley also published several volumes of poetry including Leaning Forward (1985)[20] and New and Collected Poems (1992).[21] In 1991 she published Long Walks and Intimate Talks, which combined poems and prose writing,[22] and in 2001 she released the collection Begin Again: Collected Poems, which assembled work from throughout her life.[23][24]

Paley published an essay collection, Just As I Thought, in 1999.[25] She also contributed the piece "Why Peace Is (More Than Ever) a Feminist Issue" to the 2003 anthology Sisterhood Is Forever: The Women's Anthology for a New Millennium, edited by Robin Morgan.[18]

Her final book, the poetry collection Fidelity, was published posthumously in 2008.[26]

Academic career[edit]

Paley began to teach writing at Sarah Lawrence College in 1966 (through to 1989)[27] and helped to found the Teachers & Writers Collaborative in New York in the late 1960s.[28] She subsequently served on the faculty at City College and taught courses at Columbia University.[4] She also taught at Syracuse University[29] and served as vice president of the PEN American Center,[2] an organization she'd worked to diversify in the 1980s.[17] Paley summarized her view of teaching during a symposium on "Educating the Imagination," sponsored by the Teachers & Writers Collaborative in 1996:

"Our idea was that children—by writing, by putting down words, by reading, by beginning to love literature, by the inventiveness of listening to one another—could begin to understand the world better and begin to make a better world for themselves. That always seemed to me such a natural idea that I’ve never understood why it took so much aggressiveness and so much time to get it started."[28]

Political activism[edit]

Paley was known for pacifism and for political activism.[2] Her fellow feminist activist Robin Morgan described Paley's activism as broadly focused on social justice: "civil-rights, anti-war, anti-nuclear, feminist, whatever needed revolution."[18] The FBI declared her a communist and kept a file on her for thirty years.[6]

Beginning in the 1950s, Paley joined friends in protesting nuclear proliferation and American militarization.[30][31][32] She also worked with the American Friends Service Committee to establish neighborhood peace groups,[33] helping found the Greenwich Village Peace Center in 1961.[17][34] She met her second husband, Robert Nichols, through the anti-Vietnam War peace movement.[35]

With the escalation of the Vietnam War, Paley joined the War Resisters League.[36] She was arrested on a number of occasions, including spending a week in the Women's House of Detention in Greenwich Village.[7] In 1968, she signed the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War,[37] and in 1969 she came to national prominence as an activist when she accompanied a peace mission to Hanoi to negotiate the release of prisoners of war.[38] She served as a delegate to the 1973 World Peace Conference in Moscow[3][39] and was arrested in 1978 as one of "The White House Eleven" for unfurling an anti-nuclear banner that read "No Nuclear Weapons—No Nuclear Power—USA and USSR" on the White House lawn.[34] In the 1980s Paley supported efforts to improve human rights and resist U.S. military intervention in Central America,[40][41][42] and she continued to speak out in her final years against the Iraq War.[17]

Among Paley's many other causes was abortion rights, part of her broader feminist work. She organized one of the first "abortion speak-outs" in the 1960s after having an abortion herself in the 1950s and then struggling to obtain a second one a few years later.[7]

Personal life and final years[edit]

Though Paley's Jewish background was a vital part of her identity and work, and she found community in her local synagogue in Vermont in her later years,[8] she was raised agnostic, with her father refusing to go to temple entirely.[7][6] She described herself as a bigger believer in the Jewish diaspora than in Jewish nationhood, emphasizing: "I was never a Zionist."[7]

Paley's first marriage, to the cinematographer Jess Paley, ended in divorce in 1972 after the couple separated five years prior, though the two remained close friends.[43][6][17] She married fellow poet and anti-war activist Robert Nichols later that year.[44] The couple published a joint book expressing their shared activism through poetry and prose, Here and Somewhere Else, in 2007.[2][45]

Paley was a decades-long resident of West 11th Street in New York's Greenwich Village, where she raised her children, Nora and Danny.[18] She did not learn to drive until she was 55.[3] Paley began spending summers in Thetford, Vermont, with Nichols beginning in the 1970s; the couple eventually settled there permanently in the early '90s.[4][8]

Paley died at the age of 84, after undergoing treatment for breast cancer for some time.[2] She left behind her husband, her two children and three grandchildren.[2] In an interview given in the year of her death, in May 2007, Paley spoke of the dreams she had for her grandchildren, stating the desire for "a world without militarism and racism and greed—and where women don't have to fight for their place in the world."[17]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Paley's honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship for Fiction (1961)[46] and the Edith Wharton Award Certification of Merit (1986).[47] She won an O'Henry Award in 1969 for her story "Distance."[48] She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1980.[49]

Paley went on to receive the Rea Award for the Short Story (1993),[50][51] the Vermont Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts (1993),[52] PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction (1994)[53] and the Jewish Cultural Achievement Award (1994).[54] Paley received an honorary degree from Dartmouth University in 1998.[55][56]

She was named the first official New York State Author in 1986,[47] and she was also named poet laureate of Vermont in 2003.[2][17]

In 2003, she received the Robert Creeley Award.[57] In 2004, as a part of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival, Paley received the Fitzgerald Award for Achievement in American Literature.[58] At Dartmouth College's annual Social Justice Awards ceremony in 2006, Paley received the Lester B. Granger '18 Award for Lifetime Achievement.[55]

The Grace Paley Prize, a literary award, is presented by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs in her honor.[59]

Homages and adaptations[edit]

The three-part drama film Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, based on Paley's collection of the same name, was released in 1983.[60]

In 1988, the American composer Christian Wolff set eight poems from Leaning Forward (1985) for soprano, bass-baritone, clarinet/bass-clarinet, and cello.[61] The story "Goodbye and Good Luck" from The Little Disturbances of Man was adapted as a musical by Melba Thomas (story), Muriel Robinson (lyrics), and David Friedman (music); it was performed as a staged reading in New York in 1994.[62]

A documentary film titled Grace Paley: Collected Shorts (2009), directed by Lily Rivlin, was presented at the Woodstock International Film Festival and other festivals in 2010.[63][64] The film contains interviews with Paley and friends, footage of her political activities, and readings from her fiction and poetry.[64]

Selected works[edit]

  • The Little Disturbances of Man (short stories, 1959)
  • A Subject of Childhood and a conversation with the author in New sounds in American fiction editor Gordon Lish (1969)
  • Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (short stories, 1974)
  • Later the Same Day (short stories, 1985)
  • Leaning Forward (poetry, 1985)
  • 365 Reasons Not to Have Another War (with Vera Williams, nonfiction, War Resisters League 1989 Peace Calendar)
  • Long Walks and Intimate Talks (stories and poems, 1991)
  • New and Collected Poems (1992)
  • The Collected Stories (1994)
  • Just As I Thought (semiautobiographical collection of articles, reports, and talks, 1998)
  • Begin Again: Collected Poems (2000)
  • Fidelity (2008), posthumous

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "The Collected Stories". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Fox, Margalit (August 23, 2007). "Grace Paley, Writer and Activist, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved March 6, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c "Grace Paley, 84; writer's Bronx-tinged stories focused on working-class lives". Los Angeles Times. 2007-08-24. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Dee, Jonathan; Jones, Barbara; MacFarquhar, Larissa & Paley, Grace (Fall 1992). "Grace Paley, The Art of Fiction No. 131". The Paris Review. 124. Retrieved March 6, 2020.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ a b c Arcana, Judith (1989). "Grace Paley: Life and Stories". Loyola University Chicago.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Schwartz, Alexandra. "The Art and Activism of Grace Paley". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Profile: Grace Paley". The Guardian. 2004-10-29. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  8. ^ a b c Stead, Deborah (1996-08-29). "A Bronx Heart Among Green Mountains". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  9. ^ a b c d Paley, Grace. (1994). The collected stories (1st ed.). New York: Farrar Straus Giroux. ISBN 0-374-12636-4. OCLC 29389536.
  10. ^ a b Skolkin-Smith, Leora (2011-06-06). "The "Legacy" of Grace Paley". Quartery Conversation. Archived from the original on 2019-10-23.
  11. ^ Harris, Robert R. (1985-04-14). "Pacifists With Their Dukes Up". New York Times. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  12. ^ Paley, Grace. (1997). Conversations with Grace Paley. Bach, Gerhard, 1943-, Hall, Blaine H. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 0-87805-961-X. OCLC 35758293.
  13. ^ Klinkowitz, Jerome (2017-07-26). "Metafiction". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190201098.013.546. ISBN 9780190201098. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  14. ^ Pohl, R. D. (1995-03-05). "PALEY'S PRECISE FICTION HAS ITS ROOTS IN POETRY". The Buffalo News. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  15. ^ BABA, MINAKO (1988). "Faith Darwin as Writer-Heroine: A Study of Grace Paley's Short Stories". Studies in American Jewish Literature (1981-). 7 (1): 40–54. ISSN 0271-9274. JSTOR 41205673.
  16. ^ Saunders, George. "Grace Paley, the Saint of Seeing". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2020-09-04.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g "May 2007 | The Amazing Grace Paley". www.vermontwoman.com. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  18. ^ a b c d August 27; Arts, 2007 | Robin Morgan |; culture. "L'Chaim! A Celebration of Grace Paley - Women's Media Center". womensmediacenter.com. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  19. ^ "An Interview With Poet and Fiction Writer Grace Paley". Poets & Writers. 2008-03-17. Retrieved 2020-09-04.
  20. ^ Paley, Grace. (1985). Leaning forward : poems. Penobscot, Me.: Granite Press. ISBN 0-9614886-0-3. OCLC 12813576.
  21. ^ Paley, Grace (1992). New and collected poems. Gardiner, Me.: Tilbury House. ISBN 0-88448-098-4. OCLC 25025254.
  22. ^ "Long Walks and Intimate Talks: Stories, Poems and Paintings". Publisher's Weekly. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  23. ^ Poets, Academy of American. "About Grace Paley | Academy of American Poets". poets.org. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  24. ^ Paley, Grace. (2001). Begin again : collected poems (1st pbk. ed.). New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. ISBN 0-374-52724-5. OCLC 46388814.
  25. ^ "Just As I Thought | Grace Paley | Macmillan". US Macmillan. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  26. ^ Salter, Mary Jo (2008-04-06). "At the Last Minute". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  27. ^ "Our Grace". www.sarahlawrence.edu. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  28. ^ a b "Imagining the Present". Teachers & Writers Magazine. 2018-03-13. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  29. ^ "Grace Paley". www.albany.edu. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  30. ^ Brown, Jerry, 1942- (1997). Profiles in power : the antinuclear movement and the dawn of the solar age (PDF). Brutoco, Rinaldo. New York: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 0-8057-3879-7. OCLC 37260970.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  31. ^ "Dorothy Marder Women Strike for Peace Exhibit". www.swarthmore.edu. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  32. ^ "A Selective List of Historic Civil Disobedience Actions" (PDF). National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee. July 2017.
  33. ^ "Paley remembered". Times Argus. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  34. ^ a b Garza, Margarita (May 1990). "Chapter 3: The Rise of the Antinuclear Power Movement: 1957 to 1989". The Antinuclear Power Movement and the Crisis of the U.S. Nuclear Power Industry, 1953 to 1989 (PDF). Austin, TX: University of Texas at Austin. Archived from the original (Ph.D. Dissertation) on March 8, 2005. Retrieved March 7, 2020.
  35. ^ Stone, Amy (2011-01-26). "Feminists in Focus: Reporting back from the New York Jewish Film Festival 'Grace Paley: Collected Shorts' and 'As Lilith'". Lilith Magazine. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  36. ^ "Grace Paley: An Appreciation". War Resisters League. 2013-11-30. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  37. ^ SAC, New York (100-161242)(C) (February 21, 1968). "Memorandum—Subject: Writers and Editors—War Tax Protest—Information Concerning (IS)" (FBI memorandum and photocopied attachment [4 pp.]). Archive.org. Retrieved March 7, 2020. Attached hereto, per the Bureau's request, are two Xrox copies of the advertisement referred to in the "New York Times" edition of 1/31/68. This advertisement appeared in the "New York Post", 1/30/68, page 51. [p. 1 of 4] / '...Grace Paley...' [p. 3 of 4] See also Abel, Bob; Nelson Algren, and 456 further signatories (January 30, 1968). "If a thousand men were not to pay their tax-bills this year..." (advertisement). New York Post: 51. Retrieved March 7, 2020.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  38. ^ "The Man in the Sky Is a Killer". archive.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  39. ^ Times, Christopher S. Wren Special to The New York (1973-10-31). "U.S. Peace Delegates in. Soviet Oust Leader Over Statement". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  40. ^ Barzilai, Harel; Hirsch. B.J.; Paley, Grace; and 27 further signatories (February 6, 1990). "Dear Senators: The action of the Salvadoran soldiers..." (Private correspondence [3 pp.]). Retrieved March 7, 2020 – via EconomicDemocracy.org.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)[better source needed]
  41. ^ Oates, Joyce Carol (1998-04-16). "Soft-Speaking Tough Souls". London Review of Books. 20 (8). ISSN 0260-9592. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  42. ^ Blake, Patricia (1985-04-15). "Books: Little Disturbances of Woman Later the Same Day". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  43. ^ "Paid Notice: Deaths PALEY, JESS". The New York Times. 2003-01-19. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  44. ^ The two were together at the time of Paley's death. See Amateau, Albert (October 21, 2010). "Robert Nichols, 91, led Wash. Sq. '69 renovation". The Villager. 80 (21). Archived from the original on January 18, 2012. Retrieved March 7, 2020.
  45. ^ "Here and Somewhere Else". Feminist Press. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  46. ^ "John Simon Guggenheim Foundation | Grace Paley". Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  47. ^ a b "Grace Paley Honored as State Author". The New York Times. 1986-11-14. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  48. ^ "The O. Henry Prize Stories". www.randomhouse.com. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  49. ^ "The Grace Paley Estate". UNION LITERARY. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  50. ^ "Grace Paley". Archived from the original on 2005-03-05. Retrieved 2020-03-07.
  51. ^ "Grace PaleyPress – The Rea Award For The Short Story". Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  52. ^ "Governor's Award Recipients | Vermont Arts Awards | Programs | Vermont Arts Council Website". Vermont Arts Council. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  53. ^ "The PEN/Malamud Award | The PEN/Faulkner Foundation". Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  54. ^ "Grace Paley". www.oread.ku.edu. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  55. ^ a b Vox Staff (January 23, 2006). "Alumni, Students Honored at Annual Social Justice Awards Ceremony". Vox [Dartmouth University newspaper]. Retrieved March 7, 2020 – via Dartmouth.edu/~vox. The Lester B. Granger '18 Award for Lifetime Achievement: Grace Paley '98H
  56. ^ "Grace Paley". The Montgomery Fellows. 2016-06-02. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  57. ^ "[1]". Archived from the original on 2017-08-03. Retrieved 2018-03-23.
  58. ^ "History | F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival". Fsflf. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  59. ^ McGrath, Charles (15 January 2011). "The Family History Is Grim, but He's Plotted a New Course". The New York Times. Retrieved March 7, 2020.
  60. ^ "Enormous Changes at the Last Minute". Variety. 1983-01-01. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  61. ^ Wolff, Christian (2015-11-02). "Words, Music, Song". Contemporary Music Review. 34 (5–6): 385–394. doi:10.1080/07494467.2016.1150557. ISSN 0749-4467. S2CID 156075824.
  62. ^ Yazigi, Monique P. (1994-10-16). "Playing in the Neighborhood". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  63. ^ jewishfilmfests. "Grace Paley: Collected Shorts". Jewish Film Festivals. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  64. ^ a b Smith, Nigel M. (2010-10-04). ""White Irish Drinkers" and "Grace Paley" Doc Top Audience Winners at Woodstock". IndieWire. Retrieved 2020-09-03.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]