Grace Paley, 1922 - 2007
August 23, 2007 10:33 AM   Subscribe

A wonderful obituary in the NYT for Grace Paley, who died yesterday at her home in Thetford Hill, Vt. She was 84.
posted by jokeefe (17 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I mean, obituaries can be wonderful, can't they? This one is lovingly written and highly appreciative... both a review of her life and a fine explanation, with examples, of the techniques of her dazzling prose.
posted by jokeefe at 10:35 AM on August 23, 2007

jokeefe, that's one of the finest obituaries I've ever read. I had no idea who Grace Paley was, but suddenly I almost feel like I've read her.

I'll defer to others who are more familiar with her writing to judge how accurate it was, but from the standpoint of an outsider, it was both laser-precise and very loving.... painting with exquisite accuracy the things that really mattered to her, and what she left behind.
posted by Malor at 11:09 AM on August 23, 2007

A nice obituary, but not a lot on her activism.
posted by liam at 11:28 AM on August 23, 2007

I was going to skip reading the obituary and just post the first paragraph of "Goodbye and Good Luck." But then I see that the NYTimes, showing excellent taste, beat me to it. So in case you're not reading the link, here's that paragraph:

“I was popular in certain circles, says Aunt Rose. I wasn’t no thinner then, only more stationary in the flesh. In time to come, Lillie, don’t be surprised — change is a fact of God. From this no one is excused. Only a person like your mama stands on one foot, she don’t notice how big her behind is getting and sings in the canary’s ear for thirty years. Who’s listening? Papa’s in the shop. You and Seymour, thinking about yourself. So she waits in a spotless kitchen for a kind word and thinks — poor Rosie.

“Poor Rosie! If there was more life in my little sister, she would know my heart is a regular college of feelings and there is such information between my corset and me that her whole married life is a kindergarten.”

One of the great American writers of the 20th century, and you can read her collected works in a couple of days. Go do it.
posted by escabeche at 11:28 AM on August 23, 2007

Paley writes with such precision, and she's so cool, and then she breaks your heart. she's magic.
posted by matteo at 11:43 AM on August 23, 2007

She is magic.
posted by OmieWise at 12:06 PM on August 23, 2007

She gave a killer reading as well.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:33 PM on August 23, 2007

posted by From Bklyn at 12:44 PM on August 23, 2007

I always liked the picture of her wading in the creek behind her house, she had a really down to earth spirit.
posted by Viomeda at 12:47 PM on August 23, 2007

This was shaping up to be a pretty cool obit threat, without any dots.
posted by found missing at 1:08 PM on August 23, 2007

Please explain to the non-Merkins who this person was? I've never heard of her.
posted by tomcosgrave at 2:59 PM on August 23, 2007

Yes, yes. Perhaps you could write a brief summary of her life and works. You know, a biographical account. Something that might be appropriate for a major newspaper to publish upon her death. I have no idea what you would call such a piece of prose. I suppose “obituary” might do the trick.
posted by found missing at 3:26 PM on August 23, 2007

Cool post, jokeefe, thanks.
I love how great samples of her writing are set up as jewels.
posted by bru at 6:50 PM on August 23, 2007

Wonderful obit—many thanks for posting it. And those of you who haven't read her, go read her already, it's worth it, trust me. Like those other guys said, she's magic.

To read Ms. Paley’s fiction is to be awash in the shouts and murmurs of secular Yiddishkeit, with its wild onrushing joy and twilight melancholy. For her, cadence and character went hand in hand: her stories are marked by their minute attention to language, with its tonal rise and fall, hairpin rhetorical reversals and capacity for delicious hyperbolic understatement. Her stories, many of which are written in the first person and seem to start in mid-conversation, beg to be read aloud.


Some critics found Ms. Paley’s stories short on plot

Wow, did they sleep through the twentieth century? I didn't think anyone dared make such complaints after Dubliners.

Please explain to the non-Merkins who this person was? I've never heard of her.

posted by languagehat at 10:10 AM on August 24, 2007

Interview with Grace Paley.
posted by homunculus at 1:35 PM on August 24, 2007

I missed this post and made one of my own which was a double so I'm reposting it here.

Whatever your calling is ... you have to make sure there's a little more justice in the world when you leave it than when you found it

Grace Paley: poet, activist, Vermonter. 1922-2007.

It is the poet's responsibility to learn the truth from the powerless
It is the responsibility of the poet to say many times: there is no freedom without justice and this means economic justice and love justice
It is the responsibility of the poet to sing this in all the original and traditional tunes of singing and telling poems
It is the responsibility of the poet to listen to gossip and pass it on in the way storytellers decant the story of life

posted by jessamyn at 8:52 AM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Above all, I would call her a short storyist. And one of the best, if not THE best.

jessamyn's salon interview is good.

Any thoughts on aging? What do you think about it?

My general feeling is that, if you're healthy and you have enough money to live decently -- if not flagrantly -- getting older is OK. I mean, I don't mind it at all. What I mind, of course, is that my time is getting short, that I won't see my youngest grandchild grow up -- those things that you're gonna miss. I remember my father feeling like that. I have a poem about it -- he knew he wasn't gonna see the end of the Vietnam War. He said: "Goddammit, I'll never know how they got out." There's a lot you won't know. And there's sadness because your friends are dying. And with the terrible things in the world, with the idea that you're gonna leave the world maybe worse than you found it -- I don't like that feeling at all.

But if your health is good, and you have a habit of looking at each day as a whole day -- unless you drop dead at noon or something -- then every day you live something interesting. It's interesting because you either meet a new tree or if you're in the city, you meet a new person. Or something happens. The sun shifts on the mountain -- very beautiful things happen.

posted by mrgrimm at 10:07 AM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

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