We miss Grace...

Grace Paley was a writer, activist, co-founder of the original Women and Life on Earth and much more. We remember her life and beautiful spirit, and hope to honor her work by continuing our own.

Photo and 1998 interview:
"All my Habits are Bad."
Photo taken during the
"Wall Street Action," Oct. 29, 1979

DMH Spotlight - Grace Paley and Maya Angelou at the Women's Pentagon Action, photos and text by Diana Mara Henry

Why Peace is (More Than Ever) A Feminist Issue
by Grace Paley

Grace Paley: a woman for life on earth

This is an on-going page of remembrance, discussion and celebration of Grace Paley, who succumbed to cancer on August 22, 2007 at the age of 84.

We honor her and think of her family's loss. And ours.

Grace was part of the first Women and Life on Earth in 1979. Among her many contributions were the drafting of the original WLOE Unity Statement and the Women's Pentagon Action Statement in 1980.

In 1998 she encouraged the founding of this internet project, and continued to be an inspiration and supporter.

In 2005 she was one of the 1000 women nominated  for the Nobel Peace Prize for her life of peacework on many levels.

Grace at "Wall Street Action" NYC, October 29, 1979.
Courtesy: Lionel Delevingne

The Amazing Grace Paley: Vermont's Poetic Conscience
By Rickey Gard Diamond, Vermont Woman Newspaper

Grace Paley: Collected Shorts

The award-winning film by Lilly Rivlin

Read more about Grace Paley:

From Democracy Now.  Obituary, Washington Post
From National Public Radio, with radio interviews and Grace reading.
From All Things Considered, August 23, 2007 ·
"Grace Paley, one of the great American short-story writers, has died; she was 84, and had been battling breast cancer.

Paley was an activist and teacher, and former state poet laureate in both New York and Vermont. She died Wednesday in Vermont, where she had made her home in later years.
But she was a native New Yorker, a child of the Bronx who raised her own children in Greenwich Village. The streets of her childhood were filled with immigrant Jewish families arguing about politics, and gossiping — in English, Russian, Yiddish and Polish.
"The word 'gossip,' which is considered so terrible, is really ... it's just another way of storytelling," Paley said in a 1985 NPR interview. "And it's the way women tell stories, and it's kind of denigrated, 'cause its women who do it ... you know?" …"

Also on the NPR page: a lovely photo of Grace in 1959, and links to her reading excerpts of two stories.
“poet Robert Pinsky says she was "more appropriately named ... than anyone else I know."

Author Grace Paley Dies (Newsweek) 8/24/2007
Remembering Grace Paley (About.com) 8/24/2007
Grace Paley, 84 (Boston Globe) 8/23/2007
See for good earlier photo of Grace

Remembering Grace Paley.
(Slate.com) By Jess Row, Sept. 7, 2007
Enormous Changes in Very Small Spaces
Grace Paley's greatness.
"Grace Paley, the great American short-story writer, who died Aug. 22 at the age of 84, was a very small woman—perhaps 5-2—with a halo of wispy white hair, whose voice had the unmistakable inflection of the Jewish Bronx of her youth. Surrounded by admirers, many of them 40 or 50 or 60 years her junior, she sometimes appeared a beloved, cranky, wisecracking bubbe, imparting bits of wisdom and wistful memories of a colorful life—Greenwich Village in the '50s, Vietnam, the women's movement. For younger women writers, in particular, Paley was a kind of guardian saint, a cold-eyed veteran of a more difficult era. 'I had been sold pretty early on the idea that I might not be writing the important serious stuff,' she wrote, with characteristically barbed irony, of the time when she began working on her first stories. 'As a grown-up woman, I had no choice. Everyday life, kitchen life, children life, had been handed to me, my portion.' "

SALON | Oct. 26, 1998 By A.M. Homes
..."I remember you saying you wrote a book every 10 years; are you a very slow writer or were there always so many other things going on?
There really is a lot going on -- raising children, political activities, teaching -- and it's also that I never developed good habits. My husband, Bob, always says, "Grace doesn't have a single habit." I do have habits [laughs]. It's just all my habits are bad...
Where are your political energies focused now?
In a funny way, they're more generalized. Because I am older, and because I do go around and speak -- more than I did when I was young -- part of my political work, really, is to tell how it is and how it was. I go to a school to talk about literature, and somebody says to me, "I hear you're a political person. What do you think about --?" So I find myself talking about the arms trade, which is a great horror to me. Right now I almost think of that more than a lot of other things. What we're doing is putting guns into the hands of people who will eventually shoot us. And the money made from it, and the outrageousness of it, and selling stuff to people who should be spending the money on other things -- those are things that really concern me a lot.
Are there specific projects that you're working on in that part of your life?
Just doing some writing about it. All my old-lady friends are in New York. Those are people with whom, if something hit us, we would just get together and act on it. There's a limited amount of direct action that I do now. Right now what I'm doing is really giving witness to my life...



! A Celebration of Grace Paley by Robin Morgan

Goodnight, Grace (Boston Globe) August 27, 2007
Colleague Mark Feeney offers this remembrance of short-story writer Grace Paley, who died last week:
"The short story is not what it once was. The novel long ago did to it what the movies have since done to the novel (and, who knows, what the Web will do to everything). So it may sound like damning with faint praise to call Grace Paley, who died Thursday, at 84, as one of the three or four best American short-story writers of the past half century. But it's not meant that way at all. What author wouldn't want to be considered in the company of Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor?"

The Amazing Grace Paley
Vermont's Poetic Conscience
By Rickey Gard Diamond
"Paley's friendly protests for inclusion, for peace, cannot be separated from her art. Her wide-armed participation in life translates into stories and poems and actions and talks. Her political life is expressed as boldly as her literary one, the two a kind of yin and yang, nesting together, curling into a beautiful round shape that comes full circle.
Childhood friend Lucy Nichol reconnected with "Gracie" Goodside Paley at a Montpelier rally in 1979, and they have since worked together with the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Both of them have sung with the Raging Grannies, a chorus group whose funny lyrics disarm conventional thinking about violence, war and commercialism.
Burlington activist and WILPF member Robin Lloyd told me, "Every time I hear her speak or read her poetry, she's able to cut through the jargon, the politically correct way of looking at things, which is often tedious. She gets to the kernel of it and describes it in a way that reaches your heart, with simplicity, directness, and this nitty-gritty realism that's so appealing. Her poetry is one with herself - and how she looks and how she dresses, there's no artifice."

Paley has worked with and founded dozens of organizations that give voice to those silenced by economic and military violence. They include The War Resisters League, the Women's Pentagon Action, The Clamshell Alliance, Resist, The Feminist Press, The Writers and Teachers Cooperative, and her and husband Bob's own Good Day Press. In 1979, she helped organize the first feminist environmental conference, "Women and Life on Earth," while just this March, another international women's group she sponsors, Madre, produced a report on the devastating effects of Iraq's government on women, a topic seldom reported.

I said, "When I look at the long perspective you have, Grace, your span of experience - like being a young girl and seeing firsthand the Depression, and then being a young woman, married and hanging out with soldiers during WWII, and then you worked a long time to end the Vietnam war and the wars in Central America - I wonder what advice you might have for Vermont women today."

"Advice? I don't give advice. It's not what I do," she said, voice curt. "If anything, the important thing is to remain interested in the world. It's a natural thing, I think, to be interested in different people and different cultures. And if you're not, well, that's too bad. It's important to pay attention to what's going on in the world."

August 23, 2007 | Francine Prose
"Grace Paley was a revolutionary American writer, for me and many other writers among the most important because she was writing about a world I knew about but hadn’t seen in literature: New York, mothers and children, playgrounds, subways, and old age homes. I first discovered her work in college. No one had ever said that those subjects were worth putting on the page. Suddenly, that urban, smart, female voice was accessible in writing. The stories she gave us were groundbreaking and durable, and they stand among the masterpieces of American fiction.
At the same time, Grace was a model not only how to write but also how to live as a writer and a conscientious human being, in a way that matters. She was, as we all know, a compassionate soul and a courageous and indomitable activist. She was in every sense a great citizen, of New York, of Thetford, of the United States, and of the world.
She was also a great citizen of the literary community, a funny and endlessly generous friend and colleague to many, an unforgettable teacher to many more. For more than forty years, she was a pillar of PEN American Center, serving 21 years on the PEN Board, participating in countless PEN programs and actions, and inspiring us always to be a better organization. It was Grace who called a meeting of 200 women writers during the 1986 International PEN Congress in New York and then read the group’s statement the following day decrying the underrepresentation of women in Congress programs, a transformational event for the organization nationally and internationally.
We will miss Grace enormously, her intellect and wit, her conscience, her light, and her love. We will console ourselves with her art."

9-4-07 Vera B Williams said...
Remembering Grace Paley
Ahh Grace! dear friend. How I wish I could still talk about about you in the present tense. You always seemed so vividly present even as your attentions swooped like humming birds.from one thing to another. When I was seated with you at a table for two I came to realize how the whole restaurant was actually your table You were an admitted eavesdropper with eyes and ears everywhere as we readers know from your stories. In your own kitchen too your loving interest darted from grandchild to newspaper item to your poem in progress on the dining table and to your soup on the stove. All your favorite enameled pots.and pans came to have burned bottoms in consequence of your excitement with everything around you and your impulse to help parent the wide world. It was an impulse that took you from family, typewriter and friends to Vietnam and to Chile and to Nicaragua as well as so many meetings and sites of vigil and protest; a cot in the Womens' Prison in NYC, a sleeping bag on the ground at Seabrook, N.H’s. projected Nuclear Power Plant and a demo in Moscow's Red Square. But it was always and always back again to family, typewriter and friends. We who knew you well remember how, in your constant round of attentions, you lost keys and mixed up your papers and alarmingly juggled stuff ( and joked) till the last minute. But you made it all work. It is just beautiful how you paid attention to so so much and most particularly to each and every word,comma and space needed to tell, to warn, and to praise. At the end you were worried that you couldn’t get to it all yet you stuck with it through your illness as long as you possibly could. I think of you in your flannel nightgown longing for bed but still altering lines in two of your late poems.
So Goodbye And Good Luck Grace. We feel you very very near to us and there is so much still to be learned and savored of you and your jokey spunky and so generous way of doing life."

8-25-07 10:16AM: Leora Skolkin-Smith said...
These are such beautifully and deeply felt homages to a great voice in American letters and the finest of hearts. I had the privilege of working with Grace in her last year, she edited and published my novel, "Edges" herself , with her own money and efforts under her imprint "Glad Day Books". She even designed the cover and lugged it herself to the printer. That was so Grace, these details and I think this is among many poignant examples of how she was towards the smallest and least known voice among us. I sure did fit that description! She was unstinting in her support for this work which was about Palestine and Israel, subjects very close to her. She used to say" I will judge a society not by how its honors the strongest and famous among us, but by how it treats its smallest members."
She lived by her word.
I would like to say that The Washington Post graciously published an article I wrote about Grace this morning. I hope I paid her tribute. She will be there always inside me, yelling and scolding, and but holding me still. The link is here: GRACE PALEY A WOMAN OF HER WORDS"

8-24-07 6:55PM: Scott Spencer said...
Grace Paley’s literary voice was at once adamant and relaxed, and her work illuminated some of the great paradoxes of responsible adulthood –how you needed to stop the war and make sure there was lunch meat for sandwiches for the kids, how you were a member of a family and a class, how life can be so painful and so humorous. I always feel a kind of tribal sadness when a writer dies, but losing Grace Paley is particularly difficult. On top of her immensely attractive qualities as a human being, and her celebrated talent as a writer of stories, she was a keeper of the flame –the great quasi-utopian flame of American socialism –and without her here it must now fall to others to make certain that it is not extinguished.

Young women writers: (link from JVVoices reply)
Chelsea Koehler

…”grace paley's stories are about sassy determined women who are trying to take the troubles of their personal lives with a grain of salt while refusing to let the troubles of the world pass them by unnoticed…”

(At a) meet-grace-paley breakfast... when it came to finally be my turn, i asked her simply, "do you have any advice for us, i mean, about, you know...how to live? i mean, you know, for our lives, just living them?" (yes, i'm pretty sure about all those 'you know"s. it happens) grace looked over at me, and what is amazing to me is that she didn't take a moment. one would think that being asked for advice on How To Live my give someone a bit of pause. but she looked up, and said, "yes. what you need to do is go outside of yourself. go out into the world and meet people who are different from you, who have experiences that are outside of your experience. work and walk new different neighborhoods, meet people and talk to them. because as you talk to the people around you, you will hear their stories. and as you hear people's stories, your politics will grow out of what you think about what you've heard. and your actions will grow out of what you will begin to believe. so, talk to people. talk to them. listen to them. go. "

Response to her posting:
The org I work for honored Grace last year and when she received the honor she proceeded to look into the audience of long time friends and activists and point to and name so many other women writers in the room whom she admired. I felt lucky just then. This year we’re honoring Adrienne Rich- you should come to NYC for this beautiful event called the “risk-taker awards” on October 18th.


WILPF members in Vermont and across the country recall the vibrant and humane presence of poet and short-story writer Grace Paley. She participated in demonstrations and sit-ins against the Iraq war up to the final weeks of her life.

War Resister’s League
GRACE PALEY, 1922 - 2007
“A wide-eyed chronicler of ordinary lives, she knew the personal was political long before the rest of us, putting the personal into her protests and the political into her art and blending the two seamlessly and joyfully. The War Resisters League and the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute mourn her passing and share her family's grief.”

JVoices, transforming Jewish thought

Sue Hoffman writes:
August 30th, 2007 at 2:18 pm
Just got back from vacation to hear about the death of Grace Paley. She was a mentor and role model for my Jewish eco-feminist activism in the early 1980’s when we organized the Women’s Pentagon Action together. Thousands of women placed cardboard tombstones on the grounds in front of the building to commemorate women who had died due to the power of US militarist, anti-woman and anti-nature domination. Included were the Jewish women who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. We then surrounded the Pentagon; dozens were arrested. She passed along to us young women her heritage of activism and encouragement to speak up and take risks, but to root our activism in love, not anger. She shared power in collective decision-making. Let us carry on her legacy by teaching and sharing as she did, with an open heart, across the generations.