Grace Paley was born in the Bronx, New York, on December 11, 1922. Her parents, Isaac and Manya (Ridnyk) Goodside, were Ukrainian-born Jews. As outspoken opponents of Russia’s Czar Nicholas II, they had been sentenced to exile—he to Siberia and she to Germany—before being released from imprisonment and emigrating to New York in 1905. Isaac learned English quickly and became a physician, and the Goodsides lived first on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and then in the East Bronx.
Listening to the stories of the old country and the struggles endured there, told in Russian and Yiddish as well as English, their daughter Grace inherited an interest in political issues, a progressive belief system, and a willingness to speak her mind. A good student, she graduated from high school at the age of fifteen. In 1938, she entered Hunter College in New York City, but she was expelled for poor attendance. She also enrolled at New York University but left without a degree. She loved and wrote poetry on her own, and in the early 1940’s studied with poet W. H. Auden at New York’s New School for Social Research.
In 1942, Grace Goodside married Jess Paley, a motion picture cameraman, with whom she had two children, Nora and Daniel. The Paleys lived in Greenwich Village in New York City, where the young mother did occasional office work and became involved in community activism, including Parent-Teacher Association demonstrations against civil defense and opposition to disruptive redevelopment of Washington Square Park.
Into the mid-1950’s, Paley continued writing poetry, mostly traditional and literary in style, but gradually recognizing the limits of the genre for expression of social and political concerns, she turned to prose. Her first collection of stories, The Little Disturbances of Man, appeared in 1959 to enthusiastic response. Following the book’s success, at the urging of friends and colleagues, Paley set out to write a novel; though never completed, sections of it appeared in The Noble Savage and New American Review.
In the early 1960’s, Paley began teaching courses in writing at Columbia and Syracuse Universities, and in 1966 she became a member of the faculty of Sarah Lawrence College, outside New York City, where she taught for eighteen years. Still living in Greenwich Village and writing stories for occasional publication in magazines, Paley gained visibility...
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In proclaiming herself “a somewhat combative pacifist and cooperative anarchist,” Paley brings together the intelligence, awareness, empathy, and self-mockery that illuminate her writing. The saying goes, “actions speak louder than words,” and Paley’s decades of involvement in social and political issues fill the silences between the infrequent publication of her stories. On their own as well, the stories stand as a delightful, provocative, and moving vision of a segment of society, a collection of unique individuals striving to improve their lives and their world.
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The daughter of Russian immigrants, Grace Paley was born and raised in New York City. Both her parents, Mary (Ridnyik) Goodside and Isaac Goodside, M.D., were political exiles in their early years and passed on their political concerns to their daughter. At home they spoke Russian and Yiddish as well as English, exposing their daughter to both old and new cultures. She studied in city schools and after graduation attended Hunter College in 1938 and later New York University. Paley, however, was not interested in formal academic study and dropped out of college. She had begun to write poetry and in the early 1940’s studied with W. H. Auden at the New School for Social Research. In 1942 she married Jess Paley, a motion-picture cameraman. The couple had two children and separated three years later, although they were not legally divorced for twenty years. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, Paley worked as a typist, while raising her children and continuing to write. At this time she began her lifelong political involvement by participating in New York City neighborhood action groups.
After many rejections, her first collection of eleven stories, The Little Disturbances of Man, was published in 1959. Even though the book was not widely reviewed, critics admired her work, and Paley’s teaching career flourished. In the early 1960’s, she taught at Columbia University and Syracuse University and also presented summer workshops. She also began writing a...
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