Grace Paley (December 11, 1922 – August 22, 2007), best known for her short stories depicting the dailiness of women’s lives, was also a poet, teacher, and political activist. The child of Jewish Ukrainian immigrants (who Americanized their surname, Gutseit, to Goodside), she was born and raised in the Bronx.
It’s somewhat ironic that Paley, who dropped in and out of various schools (including Hunter College and The New School for Social Research) and never received a degree, did a lot of teaching in her career. Despite lack of formal credentials, she taught classes at respected institutions, including Sarah Lawrence College (where she taught writing for a long stretch, from 1966 to 1989), as well as NYU, Columbia, Syracuse, and City College of New York.
Marriages and family
In 1942, at age 19, the former Grace Goodside married filmmaker Jess Paley; with him, she had two children. They divorced in 1972; after which she married Robert Nichols, a family friend and political ally.
A first book and activism
It wasn’t until 1959 that her first book, The Little Disturbances of Man, was published. Though it was very well received critically, it wasn’t a commercial success. Right around this time, Paley became interested in the political and social activism that was brewing in Greenwich Village, where she and her family lived. She was quite active in the anti-war movement of the 1960s, and traveled on private missions to political hotspots around the world in the 70s and 80s.
Never afraid of controversy, Grace Paley jumped into causes she believed in. For example, she was one of the founders of the Jewish Women’s Committee to End the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Honors and legacy
Paley wasn’t a terribly prolific writer, as she seemed to put family, work, and political activism first. But what she wrote was always highly respected. Her stories (with everyday themes of love, friendship, and family) were infused with wit and irony, as she revealed the inner workings of women’s lives and sometimes, Jewish identity.
Though she never finished a college degree, Paley received other significant honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship (1961) and a National Endowment for the Arts Award (1966) and was the Poet Laureate of Vermont from 2003 to 2007.
Paley died of breast cancer at age 84 at her second home inVermont. In one of her final interviews, she said that her dream for her children and grandchildren would be “a world without militarism and racism and greed – and where women don’t have to fight for their place in the world.”
Major Works (short stories and poems)
- Little Disturbances of Man (1959)
- Enormous Changes at the Last Minute: Short Stories (1974)
- Later the Same Day (1985)
- Long Walks and Intimate Talks: Stories, Poems, and Paintings (1991)
- Begin Again: Collected Poems (2000)
- The Collected Stories (2007)
- Fidelity: Poems (2008; posthumous)
Biographies and Autobiographies
- Grace Paley on Wikipedia
- Grace Paley: Collected Shorts (film)
- Grace Paley: The Poetry Foundation
- Grace Paley’s works discussed on Goodreads
- The Grace Paley page on Amazon
Articles, News, Etc.
- Grace Paley, Writer and Activist, Dies
- Grace Paley, The Art of Fiction No. 131 (Interview with author)
- The “Legacy” of Grace Paley
- From the Floor: A Conversation with Grace Paley,
Margaret Atwood, and Norman Mailer
- Celebrating Grace Paley’s Uniquely Feminine Voice
- An Interview with Poet and Fiction Writer Grace Paley
- Green Living: River Inspires Tales, Poems
- The Miniaturist Art of Grace Paley by Joyce Carol Oates