Grace Paley Quotes on Reading, Writing, and Living

Grace Paley

Grace Paley‘s literary career encompassed writing about the experiences of women, Jewish life, and teaching at various universities. She was also a poet and received multiple honors for her artistic talent despite not having a college degree.

Grace Paley: The Collected Stories (2007) encapsulates her style, noting her “quirky, boisterous characters and rich use of language,” and goes on to say:“Grace Paley’s stories are united by her signature interweaving of personal and political truths, by her extraordinary capacity for empathy, and by her pointed, funny depiction of the small and large events that make up city life.

Her work involving political matters involved the founding of the Jewish Women’s Committee to End the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and encompass anti-racism, anti-militarism and anti-sexism. Here are some of Grace Paley’s quotes on reading, writing, and living:

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“There is a long time in me between knowing and telling.” (Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, 1974)

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“it is possible with only a little extra anguish to live in this world at absolute [minimum?] loving brainy sexual energetic redeemed.”

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“I saw my ex-husband in the street. I was sitting on the steps of the new library. Hello, my life, I said. We had once been married for twenty-seven years, so I felt justified. He said, What? What life? No life of mine.” (Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, 1974)

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“You write from what you know but you write into what you don’t know.” (Conversations with Grace Paley, 1997)

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“The only thing you should have to do is find work you love to do. And I can’t imagine living without having loved a person. A man, in my case. It could be a woman, but whatever.”

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“You become a writer because you need to become a writer — nothing else.”

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“Let us go forth with fear and courage and rage to save the world.”

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“To translate a poem from thinking into English takes all night.” (Fidelity: Poems, 2007)

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“The only recognizable feature of hope is action.”

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Enormous changes at the last minute by Grace Paley - cover

Grace Paley page on Amazon

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“The younger people with the ache of youth were eating all the cheese.” (The Collected Stories, 1994)

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“That heartbreaking moment when you finish an amazing book, and you are forced to return to reality.”

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“We are in the hands of men whose power and wealth have separated them from the reality of daily life and from the imagination. We are right to be afraid.” 

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“Edie didn’t budge. She leaned her chin on her knees and felt sad. She was a big reader too, but she liked THE BOBBSEY TWINS or HONEY BUNCH AT THE SEASHORE. She loved that nice family life. She tried to live it in the three rooms on the fourth floor. Sometimes she called her father Dad, or even Father, which surprised him. Who? he asked.” (Later the Same Day, 1985)

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“Write what will stop your breath if you don’t write.”

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“Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life.”

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“Women should stick together. Didn’t you learn anything yet?” (The Collected Stories, 1994)

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grace paley

Learn more about Grace Paley

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“The wrong word is like a lie jammed inside the story.”

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“…I go through a story for lies. I might discover the lie of trying to show off. Sometimes they’re lies of character. Sometimes they are lies of writing the most beautiful sentence in the world that has nothing to do with the story.” 

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“There isn’t a story written that isn’t about blood and money. People and their relationship to each other is the blood, the family. And how they live, the money of it.”

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“I checked out the two Edith Wharton books I had just returned because I’d read them so long ago and they are more apropos now than ever. They were The House of Mirth and The Children, which is about how life in the United States in New York changed in twenty-seven years fifty years ago.”

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“Don’t you wish you could rise powerfully above your time and name? I’m sure we all try, but here we are, always slipping and falling down into them, speaking their narrow language, though the subject, which is how to save the world — and quickly — is immense.” (“The Story Hearer” )

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“Writers often write about what they want to read or haven’t seen written  … Still, there’s always that first storytelling impulse: I want to tell you something …” (Paris Review interviews)

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Little disturbances of man by Grace Paley - cover

You might also like: The Little Disturbances of Man by Grace Paley

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“It’s helpful to have money. I don’t think writers have to suffer to starve to death. One of the first things I tell my classes is, If you want to write, keep a low overhead. If you want to live expansively, you’re going to be in trouble because then you have to start thinking very hard about whom you’re writing to, who your audience is, who the editor thinks your audience is, who he wants your audience to be.” (Paris Review interviews)

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“I know some people say women writers should not have children. Of course, it was worse for them back then. Years ago just to do the kids’ wash could take the whole day, so if you were poor it was impossible to write. If you were rich, you could hire a maid; it was possible if you were George Sand. But even now we need help. My kids were in day care from the time they were three years old.” (Paris Review interviews)

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Skyler Isabella Gomez is a 2019 SUNY New Paltz graduate with a degree in Public Relations and a minor in Black Studies. Her passions include connecting more with her Latin roots by researching and writing about legendary Latina authors. 

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