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Grace Paley, R.I.P.

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Grace Paley has died at age 84. Rest in peace.

Her “Collected Stories,” published by Farrar, Straus in 1994, was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. (The collection was reissued by Farrar, Straus this year.) From 1986 to 1988, Ms. Paley was New York’s first official state author; she was also a past poet laureate of Vermont.

Ms. Paley was among the earliest American writers to explore the lives of women — mostly Jewish, mostly New Yorkers — in all their dailiness. She focused especially on single mothers, whose days were an exquisite mix of sexual yearning and pulverizing fatigue. In a sense, her work was about what happened to the women that Roth and Bellow and Malamud’s men had loved and left behind.

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What a Mensch she was. I LOVED her stories -- only 45 of them in her whole life, but CHOICE. You could feel the quality of her mind from the way she left stuff out -- the way she could "skip steps" (as we used to say in geometry class) and get to the QED had the electricity of real wit.

Very much her own person, and yet very much a voice of her community -- I'm not Jewish, so it's not my own native lore, but I hear the music in those locutions and recognize the use to which they're put from my own family, especially my basque relatives. the way she used private jokes, family lore, the rituals that people share and give them a sense of having SOME security in hte world because if all else fails, YOU will recognize the reference and smile with recognition, which creates community, keeps bringing it into being.

Her work was full of these little recognitions, and the focus was so good that a very small thing became a very big thing indeed.

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National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" with Terri Gross will air a short "remembrance" of Paley today. It's available online now. There are links to other interviews there too, as well as readings by the author.

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What a Mensch she was. I LOVED her stories -- only 45 of them in her whole life, but CHOICE. You could feel the quality of her mind from the way she left stuff out -- the way she could "skip steps" (as we used to say in geometry class) and get to the QED had the electricity of real wit.

Very much her own person, and yet very much a voice of her community -- I'm not Jewish, so it's not my own native lore, but I hear the music in those locutions and recognize the use to which they're put from my own family, especially my basque relatives. the way she used private jokes, family lore, the rituals that people share and give them a sense of having SOME security in hte world because if all else fails, YOU will recognize the reference and smile with recognition, which creates community, keeps bringing it into being.

Her work was full of these little recognitions, and the focus was so good that a very small thing became a very big thing indeed.

Lovely thoughts, Paul. Thank you.

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