Tremendously sad news: Grace Paley has died today, at age 84.
It cut us to the quick here at CNW. Paley is a hero to us all. Her creative engagement with the world spilled into her identities as a story writer (one of the greatest of our time), poet, feminist, peace and anti-nuclear activist—always fed by her fundamental passion for life.
Our catchphrase at CNW is “where women’s voices matter.” Paley embodies that ideal like no other. Her 45 stories, collected in three volumes, center the lives of women (mostly New Yorkers, mostly Jewish) and are propelled by their peculiar homegrown language. As The New York Times puts it:
“Though Ms. Paley’s work also rings with Irish and Italian and black voices, it was for the language of her childhood, a heady blend of Yiddish, Russian and English, that she was best known.”
Through the “narrative speech” of her own neighborhood, Paley underlined the worth of her native stories—and, implicitly, of the worth of the women who lived them.
Paley connected her work for women’s liberation with her fiction and poetry habit.
“Every woman writing in these years has had to swim in the feminist wave,” (Grace Paley) wrote. “No matter what she thinks of it, even if she bravely swims against it, she has been supported by it — the buoyancy, the noise, the saltiness.”(via The Washington Post)
We, in turn, have been supported by the buoyancy, the noise, and the saltiness of Grace Paley herself.
I highly urge you to discover or re-discover Paley’s work. Here’s where you might get started:
Begin Again: Collected Poems
Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (Stories)
The Little Disturbances of Man (Stories)
The Collected Stories
Long Walks and Intimate Talks: Stories, Poems, and Paintings
A Dream Compels Us: Voices of Salvadoran Women (Anthology)
Peacework: 20 Years of Nonviolent Social Change
Just As I Thought (Essays)
Here and Somewhere Else (Feminist Press 2×2 series with Robert Nichols)
Songs of praise for Grace Paley:
Maud Newton—who was the first to report the news of Paley’s passing—recounts her two meetings with the writer.
“Grace Paley, Writer and Activist, Dies” (The New York Times)
“To read Ms. Paley’s fiction is to be awash in the shouts and murmurs of secular Yiddishkeit, with its wild onrushing joy and twilight melancholy. For her, cadence and character went hand in hand: her stories are marked by their minute attention to language, with its tonal rise and fall, its hairpin rhetorical reversals and its capacity for delicious hyperbolic understatement. Her stories, many of which are written in the first person and seem to start in mid-conversation, beg be read aloud.”
A Salute to Grace Paley (1922-2007) (The Millions)
“But given the buoyancy of her spirit and her passionate engagement with the world, hers is not the kind of death that leaves readers bitter. Rather, it offers us a reminder of our own “open destinies.” I’ll be raising a glass to Paley tonight, and revisiting her remarkable body of work for years to come.”
“Acclaimed Writer Grace Paley Dies at 84” (Associated Press)
“At the same time, Paley was a self-described “combative pacifist” who joined the War Resisters League in the ’60s and visited Hanoi on a peace mission. She was arrested in 1978 during an anti-nuclear protest on the White House lawn and for years could be found every Saturday passing out protest leaflets on a street corner near her New York apartment.”
“Acclaimed Writer Grace Paley Dies at 84” (The Washington Post)
“Ms. Paley was often regarded as a feminist writer because her stories brought rare and early insight into how urban women struggle with emotional and physical vulnerabilities; demanding children and lovers; and absent, often misogynistic husbands.”