the literature of grace paley

DownloadLidija Haas at the LRB:

Born in 1922 to Russian Jewish parents who had left Ukraine 16 years earlier, Grace Goodside (originally Gutseit) grew up in the Bronx, hearing Russian and Yiddish and all the clamourings of New York City. Her parents were socialists and so was she, although she notes in the first essay collected here that, after her mother made nine-year-old Grace pull out of a play her youth group were doing on account of her awful singing voice, ‘in sheer spite I gave up my work for socialism for at least three years.’ She did all kinds of jobs and at 18 studied at the New School with W.H. Auden, who did her the great favour of encouraging her to write the way she talked. She married Jess Paley in 1942, in her late twenties had Nora and a son, Danny, and in her thirties began to write fiction and take part in the political activism that would continue to absorb much of her time and energy until her death in 2007. The Vietnam War, nuclear proliferation, US actions in Central America, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and eventually the war in Iraq: she protested and organised against them all, and those fights marked her fiction. Her last collection has characters disagreeing about Golda Meir and discussing Mao. She taught writing at various universities from the mid-1960s onwards and, after separating from Jess Paley, married the writer Bob Nichols. She also published three books of fiction, though the novel her publishers hoped for never materialised. It seems fair to say that the short story was her form. The talent for nonchalance and compression that allows her to stretch out a brief chat to encompass several lives might be wasted if it extended much further. As it is, in her work possibilities proliferate rather than narrow. Paley often reuses the same narrator, but that person never needs to have learned from or remembered what seemed to define her last time round.

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