Grace Paley

Grace Paley

Grace Paley (December 11 1922August 22 2007) was an American short story writer, poet and political activist, whose work won a number of awards.


Born as Grace Goodside in the Bronx, Paley's Jewish parents, Isaac and Manya Ridnyik Goodside, had Anglicized the family name from Gutseit on immigrating from Ukraine. The family spoke Russian and Yiddish along with English. By far the youngest of the three Goodside children (sixteen and fourteen years younger than brother and sister Victor and Jeanne, respectively), Paley was a tomboy as a child, allowing her to investigate the conflicts and struggles of her immigrant neighborhood; these issues would later form the raw material for much of her fiction.

In 1938 and 1939, Paley attended Hunter College, then, briefly New York University, but she never received a degree. In the early 1940s, Paley studied with W. H. Auden at the New School for Social Research. Auden's social concern and his heavy use of irony is often cited as an important influence on her early work, particularly her poetry.

On June 20, 1942, Grace Goodside married cinematographer Jess Paley, and had two children, Nora (1949-) and Danny (1951-).

She died at home in Thetford, Vermont, on August 22 2007, following a battle with breast cancer, aged 84.

In a May 2007 interview with "Vermont Woman" newspaper – one of her last – Paley said of her dreams for her grandchildren: "It would be a world without militarism and racism and greed – and where women don't have to fight for their place in the world."

"The Little Disturbances of Man"

Having spent several years as a typist and housewife, Paley turned her attention back to writing in the mid 1950s. After a number of rejections, Paley published her first collection, "The Little Disturbances of Man" (1959) with Doubleday. 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." The collection also 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".

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 "The New Yorker" book page) tended to rate the stories highly. Despite this initial lack of publicity, "The Little Disturbances of Man" went on to build a sufficient following leading it to be reissued by Viking Press in 1968, at the time almost unprecedented for a short story collection.


Paley was an important teacher of writing and mentor to emerging writers. She taught writing at Sarah Lawrence College from 1966 to 1989, and helped to found the Teachers & Writers Collaborative in New York in 1967. She also taught at Columbia University, Syracuse University and the City College of New York.

Paley summarized her view of teaching during a symposium on "Educating the Imagination" sponsored by the Teachers & Writers Collaborative in 1996:

"Our idea," Paley said, "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!" [editorial. 2007. "Teachers & Writers" 39(1)]

Political activism

Simultaneous with Paley's burgeoning fiction career, she began what would become a life-long commitment to political activism, particularly anti-militarization efforts. In the 1950s, Paley joined friends in protesting nuclear proliferation and American militarization; she also worked with the American Friends Service Committee to establish neighborhood peace groups, through which she met her husband Robert Nichols.

With the escalation of the Vietnam War, Paley's activism reached a new level. Paley joined the War Resisters League and came to national prominence as an activist when she accompanied a 1969 peace mission to Hanoi to negotiate the release of prisoners of war. She also served as a delegate to the 1974 World Peace Conference in Moscow and in 1978, was arrested 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. [ [ The Rise of the Anti-nuclear Power Movement 1957 to 1989] ]

"Enormous Changes at the Last Minute" and later works

Following the success of "Little Disturbances of Man", Paley's publisher encouraged her to write a novel. However, after several years of tinkering with drafts, Paley abandoned the project and turned back to short fiction.

Instead, with the aid of friend and neighbor Donald Barthelme, a famous author in his own right, Paley assembled a second collection of fiction in 1974, "Enormous Changes at the Last Minute". This collection of seventeen stories features several recurring characters from "Little Disturbances of Man" (most notably the narrator "Faith," but also including Johnny Raferty and his mother), while continuing Paley's exploration of racial, gender, and class issues.

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. 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. The collection's shifting narrative voice, metafictive qualities, and fragmented, incomplete plots have led most critics to classify it as a postmodernist work.

Paley continues the stories of Faith and her neighbors in the collection "Later the Same Day" (1985). All three volumes were gathered in her 1994 "Collected Stories", which was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Paley's other honors include a 1961 Guggenheim Fellowship for Fiction, the Edith Wharton Award (1983), the Rea Award for the Short Story (1993) the Vermont Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts (1993), and the Jewish Cultural Achievement Award for Literary Arts (1994).

In 1980, she was elected to the National Academy of Arts and Letters and in 1989, Governor Mario Cuomo made her the first official New York State Writer. She was the Vermont State Poet Laureate from March 5, 2003 until July 25, 2007.


*"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)
*"Begin Again: Collected Poems" (2000)
*"Fidelity" (2008), posthumous []


* Arcana, Judith. "Going to School with Grace Paley," TRIPLOPIA April 15, 2006 []
* Arcana, Judith. "Grace Paley's Life Stories, A Literary Biography". University of Illinois Press:1993/1994.
*"Grace Paley," "Contemporary Authors Online", Gale, 2003.
*Lavers, Norman. "Grace Paley," "Critical Survey of Short Fiction". Salem, 2001.
*Sorkin, Adam. "Grace Paley," "Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 28: Twentieth-Century American-Jewish Fiction Writers." Ed. Daniel Walden. Gale, 1984. 225-231.
*Hopson, Jacqueline. "Voices in Grace Paley's Short Stories". (Master's thesis) University of Exeter, School of English, 1990.

External links

* [ Grace Paley at FSG]
* [ REA award biography]
* [ The Miniaturist Art of Grace Paley by Joyce Carol Oates ]
* [ Interview with the War Resisters League ]
* [ Interview with Poets & Writers Magazine]

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  • PALEY, GRACE — (1922– ), U.S. short story writer and poet as well as cultural and political figure. Born in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1922, daughter of revolutionary Russian Jewish immigrants,   Paley became Poet Laureate of Vermont, where she made her home. Her… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

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  • Paley —   [ peɪlɪ], Grace, amerikanische Schriftstellerin, * New York 11. 12. 1922; schreibt subtile Kurzgeschichten, die psychologische Konflikte präzise und häufig mit scharfer Ironie darstellen; engagierte sich in der internationalen Frauenbewegung.   …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Paley, Grace — orig. Grace Goodside born Dec. 11, 1922, New York, N.Y., U.S. U.S. short story writer and poet. Paley s first languages were Russian and Yiddish, a circumstance that may have some bearing on her ability to vividly reproduce in her fiction a… …   Universalium

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