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August 24, 2007

Grace Paley

Thank you to Steven W. Beattie for informing me of the death of Grace Paley at the age of 84. As Steven says, everybody has a story about her and I am no exception, though my story is not so personal. I’ve told it before, but it’s worth repeating.

From Wednesday, April 12, 2006:

I want to write a bit about Grace Paley. I first learned of her through this post at Maud Newton. She came into my life next at the beginning of March when I was shelving her Collected Stories at the library. I took the book home with me that night (what a wonderful job it is to be handed books all day, I must say) and absolutely fell in love with her work, and, through it, with the short story itself. And now I’ve finished her collected non-fiction book Just As I Thought, which has left me awfully enamoured of the woman herself. After fifty years as a anti-war, pacifist, anti-nuke, feminist activist, I think Grace Paley would be quite right to look back on it all and say, “I was right all along.” Though what she was right about, I don’t imagine would bring her great joy.

In Just As I Thought, Paley recounts her years in the peace movement, the women’s movement, and also as a writer. “The Illegal Days” is an excellent piece on abortion. But my favourite piece in the book was “Imagining the Present”, in which she writes about imagination in the same way that so many writers look upon the novel as a means to empathy. Paley sees imagination as a tremendously potent force. She writes:

First of all, we need our imaginations to understand what is happening to other people around us, to try to understand the lives of others. I know there’s a certain political view that you mustn’t write about anyone except yourself, your own exact people. Of course it’s very hard for anyone to know who their exact people are, anyway. But that’s limiting. The idea of writing from the head or from the view or the experience of other people, of another life, or even of just the people across the street or next door, is probably one of the most important acts of the imagination that you can try and that can be useful to the world.

One thought on “Grace Paley”

  1. Beth says:

    “First of all, we need our imaginations to understand what is happening to other people around us, to try to understand the lives of others.”

    What a wonderful quotation.
    If only…

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