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
OccupationWriter, poet, political activist, teacher
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[citation needed]

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


Grace Paley was born Grace Goodside on December 11, 1922 in the Bronx, to Isaac Goodside and the former Manya Ridnyik, Jewish socialists originally from Ukraine, at least her mother, committedly so.[1][2] They had immigrated 16-17 years before (in 1906, by one account[1])[2]—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.[1]

The family would speak Russian and Yiddish in the home, and eventually English (which her father would learn "by reading Dickens").[2] Isaac would train and become a doctor in New York, and the couple would have two children early, and third, Grace, as they approached middle age.[1] 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.[according to whom?][citation needed]

Grace Goodside attended Hunter College for a year (spanning 1938-1939[citation needed]), then married a "film camerman", Jess Paley, when she was 19,[1] on June 20, 1942.[citation needed] The Paleys would have two children, Nora (1949-) and Danny (1951-), but would later divorce.[citation needed] 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...[2]

before going on to describe her teaching affiliations.[2] Paley studied briefly thereafter with W. H. Auden, at the New School,[when?] pursuing a hope to be a poet.[1] She did not receive a degree from either institution.[citation needed]

Paley married fellow poet, and author of the Nghsi-Altai series of novels, Robert Nichols, in 1972.[3]

Paley died at the age of 84, after battling breast cancer for some time.[1] At the time of her death, Paley had been living in Thetford, Vermont with her second husband, Robert Nichols.[2][3] 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."[This quote needs a citation][4][full citation needed]

Academic career[edit]

Paley would serve on the faculty at City College,[when?] and taught courses thereafter at Columbia University[when?] and then at Sarah Lawrence College, ending the latter appointment sometime before 1992.[2] She also taught at Syracuse University.[citation needed]

Paley began to teach writing at Sarah Lawrence College in 1966 (through to 1989),[citation needed] and helped to found the Teachers & Writers Collaborative in New York in 1967.[citation needed] 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 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!"[5][full citation needed]

Political activism[edit]

Paley was known for pacifism and for political activism.[citation needed] She wrote about the complexities of women's and men's lives and advocated for what she said was the betterment of life for everyone.[citation needed] In the 1950s, Paley joined friends in protesting nuclear proliferation and American militarization.[citation needed] She also worked with the American Friends Service Committee to establish neighborhood peace groups, through which she met her second husband Robert Nichols.[citation needed]

With the escalation of the Vietnam War, Paley joined the War Resisters League.[citation needed] In 1968, she signed the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War,[6] 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.[citation needed] She served as a delegate to the 1974 World Peace Conference in Moscow,[citation needed] 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.[7] Into the 1990s Paley supported efforts to improve human rights and resist U.S. military intervention in Central America.[8][better source needed]


Early in her writing career, Paley experienced a number of rejections for her submitted works.[citation needed] Paley published her first collection, The Little Disturbances of Man (1959) with Doubleday.[1] 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 ten of Later the Same Day.[citation needed] Though as a story collection by an unknown author the book was not widely reviewed;[citation needed] those who did review it, including Philip Roth and The New Yorker book page, tended to rate the stories highly.[according to whom?] Despite an initial lack of publicity, Little Disturbances developed a sufficient following for it to be reissued by Viking Press in 1968.[citation needed]

Following the success of Little Disturbances, Paley's publisher encouraged her to write a novel.[citation needed]

Goodbye and Good Luck[clarification needed] was adapted as a musical by Melba Thomas (story), Muriel Robinson (lyrics), and David Friedman (music) in 1989.[citation needed]

After several years of tinkering with drafts, Paley went back to short fiction.[citation needed] With the aid of Donald Barthelme,[citation needed] Paley assembled a second collection of fiction in 1974, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, which was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.[1] This collection of seventeen stories features several recurring characters from Little Disturbances (most notably the narrator "Faith," but also including Johnny Raferty and his mother), while continuing Paley's exploration of racial, gender, and class issues.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] The collection's shifting narrative voice, metafictive qualities, and fragmented, incomplete plots have led most critics to classify it as a postmodernist work.[according to whom?][citation needed]

In the Later the Same Day (1985), also published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux,[1] Paley continues the stories of Faith and her neighbors.[citation needed]

Paley's stories were regathered in a volume from Farrar, Straus in 1994, Collected Stories, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.[1]

Although more widely known for her short fiction, Paley also published three volumes of poetry, Leaning Forward (1985),[citation needed] New and Collected Poems (1992),[citation needed] and Long Walks and Intimate Talks (1991).[citation needed] Paley 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.[citation needed]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Paley's honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship for Fiction (1961),[citation needed] and the Edith Wharton Award (1983).[citation needed] In 1988, American composer Christian Wolff set eight poems from Leaning Forward (1985) for soprano, bass-baritone, clarinet/bass-clarinet, and cello.[citation needed]

Paley went on to receive the Rea Award for the Short Story (1993),[9][verification needed] the Vermont Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts (1993),[citation needed] PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction (1994),[citation needed] and the Jewish Cultural Achievement Award for Literary Arts (1994).[citation needed] Paley received an honorary degree from Dartmouth University in 1998.[clarification needed][10][better source needed]

In 2003, she received the Robert Creeley Award.[11] In 2004, as a part of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival, Paley received the Fitzgerald Award for Achievement in American Literature award, which is given annually in Rockville Maryland, the city where Fitzgerald, his wife, and his daughter are buried.[citation needed] At Dartmouth College's annual Social Justice Awards ceremony in 2006, Paley received the Lester B. Granger '18 Award for Lifetime Achievement.[10]

Paley was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.[when?][citation needed] The Grace Paley Prize, a literary award, is presented by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs in her honour.[12]

Published books[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 1989)
  • 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 [1]


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


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Fox, Margalit (August 23, 2007). "Grace Paley, Writer and Activist, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved March 6, 2020.
  2. ^ 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)
  3. ^ a b 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.
  4. ^ Vermont Woman, May 2007.[full citation needed]
  5. ^ Paley, Grace (2007). Editorial. Teachers & Writers 39:1, page numbers, online version unavailble.[page needed]
  6. ^ 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.]). 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)
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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 maint: uses authors parameter (link)[better source needed]
  9. ^ "Grace Paley". Retrieved 2020-03-07.
  10. ^ 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 The Lester B. Granger '18 Award for Lifetime Achievement: Grace Paley '98H
  11. ^ [1][dead link]
  12. ^ 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.

Further reading[edit]

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