Thursday, August 23, 2007
If you have never read a short story (or twenty) by Grace Paley, one of life's great pleasures still awaits you. If you have read them, you'll doubtless want to read them again. Her output was dwarfed by her political activism; she nonetheless is undisputedly one of our greatest short story writers.
I hadn't heard of Grace till the 80s, when writer, teacher, and then coordinator of Women's Voices Marcy Alancraig invited her to speak to and with us at that workshop. Marcy emerged from her call to Grace grinning. "We were trying to work out a date, and I mentioned one and she said, 'I can't come that day. I have to go to jail.'" It turned out she'd gotten busted at a peace march for pouring blood on the White House lawn. When I first read her books, The Little Disturbances of Man and Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, I couldn't believe the fresh voice, the fresh view. She was not only a great activist; she was an amazing writer.
We all fell in love with Grace when she arrived in Santa Cruz on the bus and joined us for a discussion about writing. For one so celebrated, she was unpretentious about her gifts and informed us that many of her drafts looked terrible in their early stages. It was important to take risks, she told us, "Sometimes you just have to hang out there and look stupid." She was adorable. She didn't adopt ladylike poses in her folding chair, and she listened very intently, very respectfully to us all.
When I left Santa Cruz and moved to Vermont, there was Grace. I would see her in the parking lot at the co-op, at the puppet show in the art gallery. She was easy to spot in the community with that wonderful, soft mane of fluffy white hair. "Amazing Grace," I would say, loud enough for her to hear, then I would scurry shyly away. I have never been good at chatting up famous people.
Grace maintained that poetry and short stories were kindred forms, and she published a couple of collections of her poems. Here's one:
Here I am in the garden laughing
an old woman with heavy breasts
and a nicely mapped face
how did this happen
well that's who I wanted to be
at last a woman in the old style sitting
stout thighs apart under
a big skirt grandchild sliding
on off my lap a pleasant
that's my old man across the yard
he's talking to the meter reader
he's telling him the world's sad story
how electricity is oil or uranium
and so forth I tell my grandson
run over to your grandpa ask him
to sit beside me for a minute I
am suddenly exhausted by my desire
to kiss his sweet explaining lips
Also, I thought I would stop by and let you know that your blog was one of the featured spots on the very first BWR at my new place. Drop by any time!