Grace Paley, master story teller dies

Grace Paley (1922-2007)

Master short story writer and political activist Grace Paley died of breast cancer yesterday, at her home in Vermont. This is a huge loss for the short story community.

I met Grace Paley once when I was a student at NYU, and she came to talk to a craft class I was taking with Paule Marshall. The students had prepared lists of complex questions to ask her, about how she created her characters, how she crafted her sentences, how she did all the magical things she accomplished on the page. To every question she simply answered, “I just do it.” I remember that some of the students became annoyed, but I left that room feeling completely enlightened. What had seemed like a complicated, impossible-to-enter world had been made simple. She had opened the door. You can not second guess yourself or try to plan or over analyze. All that has to come later in the process. While creating, the most important thing is to stop thinking and just do it. Just write. For years I’ve had that quote tacked over my desk. And I’ve always kept her collected stories nearby, next to Flannery O’Connor and Amy Hempel.

One of my favorites of hers is “A Conversation with My Father”, a great piece about storytelling. Also “Wants”, which has this incredible beginning:

“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.
I said, O.K. I don’t argue when there’s real disagreement. I got up and went into the library to see how much I owed them.
The librarian said $32 and you’ve owed it for eighteen years. I didn’t deny anything. Because I don’t understand how time passes. I have had these books. I have often thought of them. The library is only two blocks away.”

We owe Grace Paley much. Her humor, her good sense, and her spirit will be greatly missed.

6 thoughts on “Grace Paley, master story teller dies

  1. “Wants” is my favorite short story by Grace Paley. I can’t take out a library book without thinking about that story. It’s hard to imagine a better line than “Hello, my life, I said. We had once been married for twenty-seven years, so I felt justified.” What a remarkable narrative voice. So deadpan and so insightful. Her collected stories have taught me much.

  2. “Distance” is my favorite story by Grace Paley. It taught me so much about the power of voice to carry a tale. I carry it around with me and try to force it on people in workshops. I was so sad to hear of Grace’s passing — what a loss!

  3. Grace Paley was kind enough to speak with us during my time at NYU also (unless we’re talking about the same event – I think it was 1999?). During that discussion, I remember at one point she said that what she did shouldn’t be called “writing” – that instead people should call it “revising” – since that’s what it was.

  4. I am sorry to say that I have never read Grace Paley, but now intend to buy a collection of her stories. I feel certain I will find inspiration in her voice. Better late than never, I hope.

  5. For anyone who loves writing, and sharing their stories – you’ll love this Web site! You can start your own story and have your friends contribute to it, or you can contribute to other peoples stories. Either way, you will have fun in this story sharing experience. Go Share Today!

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