Tuesday, May 21, 2013

An Author a Day for Thirty Days: Day 21

I don’t know how I came across Grace Paley; maybe she was included in a short story anthology, or maybe I came across one of her essays in a Women’s Studies class (I will give you a minute to get over your shock that I took a women’s studies class…take your time).  However I came to know her work, I consider myself truly lucky.

Where can we can this hat?
Occasionally you come across lists of books that women or young women should read.  I don’t ever recall seeing Grace Paley on those lists, which is a travesty. Not only should she be on the list, she should be in the top five. The best way I can describe her, especially her essays (although some of her stories are semi autobiographical), is that she teaches you how to be a better, or maybe the word is, complete, a more complete person.

Paley is compassionate, thoughtful, and wise.  She was a feminist, an anti war activist, poet, essayist, and short story writer. I met her once at the Miami Book Festival; I don’t know for sure but she must have been in her 70’s at the time. She was a very tiny woman but sort of fierce looking, like she knew things. Anyway, she signed my books and I told her what her work meant to me, she stood up and hugged me.

Basically this entire blog is so I can brag and say I once hugged Grace Paley and it was a highlight of my life.

I will recommend two books that will be a good introduction to Paley. First, The Collected Stories. For me this collection is a bible of sorts, it combines her three volumes of stories into one book.  Not that you’re the type to be impressed by these things, but this collection was a finalist for the Pulitzer and National Book Award.

The second book you should have will you give you a sense of who Grace Paley was as a person, as a humanist. Just as I Thought collects her essays, articles, and some talks she gave over the years (she was one of the most inspiring speakers I’ve ever seen).

Grace Paley in Miami
One last note: I thought of Grace Paley today after reading about the devastating tornado damage in Oklahoma. When things like this happen, the danger is that it can paralyze you, make you feel useless or powerless. You resort to just shaking your head. For me, Paley is a writer who I go to for solace, for direction, and for inspiration. She was an activist in every sense of the word.  Every day was a call to action for her; just knowing that inspires me to be a better person, to be an activist.  

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