Rest in Peace, Grace PALEY
GRACE PALEY, the celebrated American poet, short-story writer, anti-war activist and feminist whose short stories explored in precise and pungent prose the struggles of ordinary Jewish men and especially women in New York going about their everyday lives, died on Wednesday, August 23, 2007. She was 84.
One of America’s most revered writers of short stories, Paley’s eccentric, noisy characters and rich use of language leave you astounded. She once tried writing a novel, but failed. She found the novel pedestrian. She finds the idea of plot difficult. But she excelled at the short story. In her story, “A Conversation with My Father” (1974), the narrator argues against “plot, the absolute line between two points which I’ve always despised. Not for literary reasons, but because it takes all hope away. Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life.”
Though her body of work was modest by all means, some four dozen stories in three collections: The Little Disturbances of Man (Doubleday, 1959); Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1974), shortlisted for the 1975 National Book Award for Fiction, and Later the Same Day (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1985), she attracted a devoted following and was widely praised for her pitch-perfect dialogue, which managed to be spare and rich at the same time. Her Collected Stories (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1994) was shortlisted for the 1994 National Book Award for Fiction and the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. (The collection was reissued by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2007.) Her other books include several collections of poetry: Leaning Forward (Granite Press, 1985) and New and Selected Poems (Tilbury Press, 1991), among others, and a collection of essays, Just As I Thought (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998). A new collection of poetry, Fidelity: A Book of Poems, will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2008. She received the 1993 Rea Award for the Short Story, an annual award given to a writer whose work has made a significant contribution to the discipline of the short story as an art form.
I remember chancing upon a soiled copy of Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, my very first introduction to her work, at Times KLCC many years ago.