Paley, Grace 1922–2007

views updated

Paley, Grace 1922–2007

(Grace Goodside Paley)


See index for CA sketch: Born December 11, 1922, in New York, NY; died of breast cancer, August 22, 2007, in Thetford Hill, VT. Fiction writer, poet, educator, social activist, and author. Paley's lasting reputation as one of the preeminent American short-story writers of the twentieth century grew out of three slender collections of short fiction published between 1959 and 1985. The defining feature of her work was not theme or plot, but voice. Hers has been called the quintessential voice of the working-class neighborhoods of the Bronx, the voice of single women raising children, as she did herself, exhausted and bored at the same time, yearning vaguely for something different, something better, but ultimately yielding to the reality of the moment. At the same time her voice was described as boisterous, loud, vibrant, full of life, and perfectly tuned to the pitch of the city streets. When her three volumes were combined in 1994, the work received the prestigious short-fiction Rea Award from the Dungannon Foundation and nominations for both a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. The source volumes for this collection were The Little Disturbances of Man: Stories of Women and Men at Love (1959), which generated glowing responses from her critics, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (1974), selections from which were adapted as a film of the same title in 1983, and Later the Same Day (1985). Paley's own life, while seemingly mirrored in her fiction, was more active. In the early years of her marriage she worked at miscellaneous clerical jobs, raised her children virtually as a single parent, and wrote fiction and poetry when she could. She taught at various New York colleges, despite her lack of academic credentials. The daughter of socialist refugees from czarist Russia, Paley allied herself with various social and political causes, including the work of the Greenwich Village Peace Center, the Women's Pentagon Action, and the War Resisters League, and she was arrested several times for civil disobedience. During the Vietnam war she traveled to forbidden North Vietnam to negotiate the release of American prisoners of war. Toward the end of her life she protested the war in Iraq. Also in her later years, Paley resumed her interest in writing poetry, and these later works reportedly reflect her political views more directly than her fiction did. She published several poetry collections, including Begin Again: Collected Poems (2000) and Fidelity (2008).



Arcana, Judith, Grace Paley's Life Stories: A Literary Biography, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1993.

Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 28: Twentieth-Century American-Jewish Fiction Writers, 1984, Volume 218: American Short-Story Writers since World War II, Second Series, 2000.

Feminist Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.


Chicago Tribune, August 24, 2007, sec. 3, p. 8.

Los Angeles Times, August 24, 2007, p. B8.

New York Times, August 24, 2007, p. C20.

Times (London, England), August 24, 2007, p. 68.

About this article

Paley, Grace 1922–2007

Updated About content Print Article


Paley, Grace 1922–2007