Grace Goodside Paley

Time Period

1940 to Today

Subject Categories

Activist, Education, Equal Rights, Writers

Notable Facts

Vermont State Poet Laureate from 2003 to 2007. Wrote many short stories and poems that have received nationwide acclaim, including "The Little Disturbances of Man" and "Enormous Changes at the Last Minute." Taught courses at Columbia University, Syracuse University, Sarah Lawrence College, and the City College of New York. Devoted political activist who took part in numerous protests advocating for women's rights, against wars, and against nuclear proliferation.

Personal Information

Date of Birth

12/11/1922

Date of Death

09/22/2007

Primary Residence

Thetford

Religion

Jewish

Ethnicity

Caucasian

Historical Significance

Grace Paley was born in the Bronx in 1922 to Jewish parents Isaac and Manya Ridnyik Goodside. The family spoke Russian, Yiddish, and English. Both her parents and her immigrant neighborhood had vast influences on her written works and political activism. She began her studies at Hunter College, and later attended New York University. However, she never received degrees.

Her first collection of short stories was published in 1959 and was called "The Little Disturbances of Man." The narrations detailed stories of ordinary New York citizens. She published two more volumes of short stories called "Enormous Changes at the Last Minute" (1974) and "Later the Same Day" (1985). "Enormous Changes at the Last Minute" was very successful and was adapted into a film in 1984. Other works of short fiction and poetry include "Long Walks and Intimate Talks" (1991) and "New and Collected Poems

'(1992). Her most recent work, "The Collected Stories", was published in 1994.

Paley received many awards and honors as a result of her works, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in Fiction, the National Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Short Story writing, and she was elected to the National Academy of Arts and Letters in 1980. In 1989, Mario Cuomo, New York State Governor at the time, named her the first official New York State writer. Her "Collected Stories", published in 1994, was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

Paley served as the Vermont State Poet Laureate from March 5, 2003 until July 25, 2007. According to the Vermont Arts Council, this position honors works of "excellence by poets who have a long association with Vermont." Governor Jim Douglas offered this praise of Paley in 2003: "Artists are known for challenging convention...Great artists like Grace Paley do that and more."

Paley's writing led her into a career in education beginning in the 1960s. She taught courses at Columbia and Syracuse Universities, and later became a faculty member at Sarah Lawrence College. In addition, she taught at City College of New York.

One of her other great contributions was her role as a political activist (self-described as a "somewhat combative pacifist and cooperative anarchist"). She was a dedicated member of the War Resisters League and, therefore, strongly opposed to the Vietnam War. She was also a member of the peace mission to Hanoi to negotiate the release of prisoners of war in 1969.

Women's issues were also very important to Paley. "...people will sometimes say, "Why don't you write more politics?" and I have to explain to them that writing the lives of women is politics." Paley was a devoted representative of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, which has been in existence since 1915. "WILPF works to achieve through peaceful means world disarmament, full rights for women, racial and economic justice, an end to all forms of violence, and to establish those political, social, and psychological conditions which can assure peace, freedom, and justice for all." In 1974, Paley attended the World Peace Conference in Moscow. A decade later, she traveled to Nicaragua and El Salvador to demonstrate her opposition to U.S. government-imposed policies for these nations. December 1978 was another important time in her work as a political activist, as she was one of "The White House Eleven" who were arrested after unrolling an anti-nuclear banner over the White House lawn. Her most recent protests included those over the Iraq War.

Paley married a film cameraman in 1942 by the name of Jess Paley, after her year at Hunter College. However, they divorced and she remarried Robert Nichols, a landscape architect and author, in 1972. She had two children with her first husband; a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren. She moved to Thetford, Vermont, where she lived the rest of her life. She died in her home on August 22, 2007.

Organizations or Movements

  • War Resisters League
  • Peace Mission to Hanoi
  • Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
  • Guggenheim Fellowship
  • National Institute of Arts and Letters
  • National Academy of Arts and Letters

Occupations

  • Writer
  • Poet
  • Political Activist
  • Professor

Education

  • Some studies at Hunter College and New York University

Additional Information (Bibliography)

  • WILPF Link

  • Salon Interview with Grace Paley Link

  • Grace Paley's books Link

  • ReaAward for Short Stories: Grace Paley Link

  • New York Times Obituary Link

  • San Jose Mercury News

  • Wikipedia Article

  • New York State Writers Institute

  • New York Times Article

Additional Images

Grace Paley
Grace Paley
Grace Paley at peace march.
Grace Paley at peace march.